As a parent, it is a given that your young child needs your help to care for their teeth daily, but have you ever stopped to consider why that help is so important? In this article, I am going to help break down the why, so you can use it as inspiration for when times get tough, and your child insists “I don’t want to do my teeth tonight!”.
Why are baby teeth so important?
Baby, or primary, teeth serve a lot of important functions for your young child’s developing mouth. By the time they are 3, your child will likely have all 20 primary teeth – 10 on the top and 10 on the bottom. Not only do these teeth help your child to chew, and smile, but they also help them speak! Think about how difficult it would be to make certain letter sounds without the use of teeth – namely C, D, F, G, L, N, S, V and Z. Teeth also help with the pronunciation of certain sounds like “sh”, “ch”, and “th”. Pretty cool, huh?
Primary teeth also hold space for the developing adult teeth, which will eventually grow in following the same path made by the primary teeth. If a child loses a primary tooth too early, it can affect the future position of the surrounding adult teeth which can drift into the open space. That is why preservation of primary teeth is so important for your little one.
Until your child reaches age 7, you will need to help them with brushing and flossing – even when they insist they can do it on their own! Children lack the manual dexterity to perform a thorough job of plaque removal and that is why your help with this daily habit is vital.
As always, you will want to maintain regular dental check-ups for your child with their pediatric dentist so their oral health can be monitored, and issues can be addressed before they become problematic.
How do I care for my 0–6-month old’s mouth?
Care for the newborn’s mouth starts early – even before teeth; it is a very simple process and can be done using a washcloth wrapped around your finger or a Grin Baby silicone finger brush. Wiping the gums daily with gentle, but firm, pressure allows for oral desensitization of the sensitive tissues in your child’s mouth. This may even allow your child to tolerate toothbrushing better once their teeth start to grow in. The other bonus? It is creating a routine for you as a parent, so you are ready to go once baby’s first tooth grows in!
How do I care for my 6 months-3-year old’s teeth?
At around the 6-month mark is when you may start to notice the appearance of the first tooth (it may happen earlier or later for your child since this is just an estimate). Once the tooth is in – even if it is only half-way – you will need to start brushing it. Grin has a lot of great choices to choose from for the first toothpaste – even the fluoridated versions are safe to use according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and American Academy of Pediatrics. You are only going to use a tiny smear of toothpaste – equivalent to the size of a grain of rice – as this is the recommended dose. If your child swallows this small amount, it is considered a safe dose, so there is no need to panic!
Maintaining consistency and doing this routine daily for your little one will help ensure their dental health is staying on the right track. Additionally, once teeth begin to touch, flossing will be another item on your to-do list. Grin Kids flossers are a must for plaque removal between teeth – the bonus is that their compact size is great for little hands to start practicing this important skill for themselves.
How do I care for my 3–6-year old’s teeth?
Once your child reaches age 3, you might start to notice brushing battles occurring more frequently. Simply put, your child has learned that refusing to brush their teeth is a great way to assert their independence! Encouraging brushing through reward systems like the Grin Kids Brushing Chart can be helpful for your child to track their progress, and earn prizes, if you wish to give them. Modeling good oral hygiene for your child will also be a valuable tool in your parenting toolbox. Just like you model kindness and respect for your child, modeling self-care and the importance of oral health will be instrumental in how your child views the value of oral health moving forward.
How do I care for my 6–12-year old’s teeth?
For kids 6 and 7 years old, you will still want to help them with brushing and flossing daily. If at 7 years old, you do not feel confident in your child’s ability to do a thorough job of plaque removal on their own, continue to help them and re-evaluate their progress in the future.
The older child will benefit greatly from your continued encouragement of their good oral hygiene habits, especially as their mouth is transitioning from primary to permanent teeth. If their teeth are crowded, keeping them clean can be difficult since there are lots of nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide – if this is the case, a consultation with an orthodontist is a great idea to see if and/or when orthodontics are needed.
In my experience, kids, especially pre-teens and teens, do not place a high priority on brushing or flossing. Entrusting them to do this on their own is important for their independence, however, you will need to make sure they are actually doing it. Just asking them “did you brush and floss?” is not enough, unfortunately.
Diet for an older child can also have a big impact on oral health, so it is advised to limit the availability of candies and sugar-sweetened beverages at home as much as possible.
Healthy Teeth for a Lifetime
Teaching your child to care for their teeth on their own is a long, winding road with many ups-and-downs. It is definitely a journey but one that can ultimately be quite fulfilling. My 5-year-old son already knows the importance of brushing and flossing, and despite not liking it, knows that it needs to be done. He may dilly-dally on when it gets done, but it always gets done – he makes sure of that!
About the Author
Katie Steger, BSDH, is a dental hygienist and mom and the founder of @healthyteeth.fortots, an Instagram platform designed to provide early childhood oral health education and support to parents with dental anxiety. Katie is passionate about oral health education, the impact of nutrition on the developing dentition, and educating parents and families on strategies to make oral hygiene more accessible. Resources can be found on her website: katierdh.com
Photo credit: @ielletweedie_ @tryingtolivethesweetlife