Children's Dental Health

Did you know the right time to think about dental hygiene for children might be sooner than you think?

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), the incidence of cavities in children is on the rise in spite of increased awareness of the need for good dental hygiene. Teaching children the tenets of proper dental health habits from early childhood can keep them from becoming part of these alarming statistics.

While most kids don't have their first dentist visit until they are roughly one to two years old, there are many things parents can do to encourage good oral health in their children. Let's take a look at some key areas on which to focus.  

Encourage Good Oral Habits in Early Childhood for Best Results
Credit: Image by The Lamb Family under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Tooth Brushing

Do your kids a favor and instill good dental habits in them while they are still toddlers because it's easier to continue good habits than it is to break bad habits. During their toddler years, you'll probably do most of the brushing since their fine motor skills are not yet developed, but let them help as much as they want to. It will take longer and probably mean you'll have done some clean-up afterward, but it's important to teach them to take responsibility for their own health and hygiene.

Here's five helpful tips for teaching kids to brush their teeth:

1. Most kids instinctively swallow and do not spit so err on the side of safety and use a non-fluoridated toothpaste.

2. Children's toothbrushes are specially designed with smaller heads and softer bristles, which makes them the best choice. Let your child pick out the toothbrush and he will be more likely to use it, especially if it is decorated with one of his favorite cartoon characters or lights up or plays a song while he's brushing with it.  

3. Use an egg timer or sing a song like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to illustrate the time it takes to do a thorough brushing. Kids love to flip an egg timer and watch the sand flow down.

If you are already using a song to teach them the steps for proper hand washing, piggyback on that training by using the same song to time their tooth brushing sessions.

4. Be a good role model; brush your teeth after every meal. Many times children learn more by imitating what they see others do  or say than they do by rote instruction.

5. Keep it simple! Kids may resist brushing their teeth if they are tired or don't feel well. It's okay to let them skip an occasional brushing; just be sure to offer them plenty of water to keep the mouth and teeth clean.

Teaching Kids to Brush Properly

Preventing Tooth Decay in Children

Sugar laden snacks and drinks are the major enemies in the fight against cavities. So, what can parents do?

Try these tips to reduce the amount of sugar exposure:

  • Serve sweet drinks infrequently in small amounts. Children should drink them promptly and either brush their teeth or drink water afterward to get the sugar residue off the teeth.
  • Make water the beverage of choice for children after they consume their daily milk requirement.
  • Fill nighttime bottles with water rather than milk because milk contains sugar, which stays on the teeth all night.
  • Offer healthy snacks like fruit or vegetables instead of sugary snacks like raisins, cookies or candy.
  • Teach children to brush after every meal. If brushing their teeth isn't an option, have them rinse their mouth with water after eating.

Teach Children Good Dental Health Habits Early

Tooth Fairy Cometh
Credit: Image by MadMaven/T.S.Heisele under royalty free license via SXC,

Surviving A First Dentist Appointment

It's important to prepare your child for his first visit to the dentist's office. Before you even book that first appointment, however, you'll need to decide if you want to take him to your personal dentist or find a pediatric dentist.

The advantage of your child becoming one of your dentist's new patients is you are dealing with a dentist you know and trust. The disadvantage is he or she may not accept children as patients or might have to refer your child to a pediatric dentist for certain oral health problems.

Once you've chosen your child's dentist, start preparing her with positive word images of a dental appointment. Explain what the dentist does during a check-up.

Keep in mind young children are concrete thinkers and have trouble visualizing abstract concepts. Reading her children's books about dentist visits helps her form a picture of what will take place at the dentist's office.  

You might want to do some role-playing with your child and pretend to be a dentist examining his teeth. Drape a paper towel around his neck, have him open his mouth, and then look at his teeth. Give him a small sip of water and tell him to spit it out. While this sounds simple, practicing what happens at the dentist office gives him some familiarity with the process and might lower any anxieties he has about the real visit.

Most dentists use the first visit as an opportunity to get acquainted with your child. They may have the dental hygienist clean her teeth or give her a fluoride treatment. However, most will not take any x-rays until a child is about four years old.

Fun Toothbrushes Encourage Kids to Brush Longer

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When to Take Kids to Dentist

According to the experts at WebMD, children should have their first dentist appointment at either one or two years of age depending on these factors:

  1. Children who are still bottle-fed or eating or drinking during the night should see a dentist by their first birthday.
  2. Children who are weaned and sleeping through the night should have their first dental appointment by their second birthday.

Of course, this is general guidance and may not apply to your children because if there are obvious dental issues such as problems with teeth or gums, you'll want them to see a dentist as soon as possible.

Children's Books About Dentist Visits Can Relieve Fears

Family Can Help or Hinder Your Efforts

An important part of getting children ready for their first dental visit is getting everyone in the family on the same page about how to talk about going to the dentist. Don't voice negative comments or tell stories about painful dentist visits, and don't allow other family members to share their bad experiences with your child.

While this may be difficult, it's well worth the effort if it keeps your child from being scared of the dentist. Good dental hygiene for children includes learning oral health habits early, brushing teeth consistently, and visiting the dentist regularly to reduce or eliminate the risk of cavities and tooth decay. 

Image by The Lamb Family under CC-BY-SA 2.0