All teeth are important, whether they’re primary teeth or secondary teeth. Not only do baby teeth help toddlers bite and chew solid food, they also help make speech possible, aid in the development of the jaw bones and facial muscles and reserve space and guide secondary teeth into position. Teaching children proper oral care at a young age is an important lesson that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Teaching your toddler to brush
Children love to learn by example, so what better way to teach toddlers how to brush their teeth than by showing them how much fun you have when you brush yours? Your child’s oral health regime should start at birth by cleaning the gums with your finger wrapped in gauze or a wet cloth after each feeding. Once the first tooth appears, use a soft, child-size toothbrush to brush the tooth, gums and tongue twice a day. Avoid using toothpaste until your child is three years old, at which time you can add a small, pea-size dab of children’s fluoride toothpaste.
For toddlers who want to help and try to grab the toothbrush, try using two toothbrushes, one for them to hold while you clean their teeth with the second brush. Begin brushing at the front teeth, by using a sweeping motion in the direction the teeth grow. The biting surface of the molars should then be scrubbed to dislodge any food debris caught in the crevices. Gums should also be gently brushed where teeth have yet to emerge.
According to the Canadian Dental Association, children are capable of cleaning their own teeth properly when they can write their own name and have the manual dexterity needed to manipulate the toothbrush. Until then, the responsibility lies with the parent to ensure teeth are kept clean and healthy.
The importance of a healthy diet
We all know that a healthy diet plays a vital role in our overall well-being, including our oral health. Foods rich in calcium like milk and cheese are needed to build strong tooth enamel, as are vitamins A and C, which can be found in many fruits and vegetables. By offering your child a diet rich in nutrients and vitamins, you’ll be providing them with everything they need to grow strong teeth.
Sugary snacks and beverages like cookies, chocolate, juice and pop can lead to tooth decay, especially sticky treats like candy and raisins, because they can get caught in the crevices of molars. A child’s chance of developing tooth decay increases with the amount of sugar they consume and how long that sugar stays in their mouth.
Brushing after each meal will help rid little teeth of food debris and sugar, but if a toothbrush isn’t handy, try ending a meal with a detergent food, such as an apple or celery sticks, and a glass of water. Detergent foods will help dislodge any sticky food particles caught in your toddler’s teeth. Instead of offering sugary treats, offer your toddler healthy, teeth-smart snacks like fruits and vegetables, cheese, natural popcorn or crackers. When it comes to beverages, milk and water are the best choices. If you offer juice, dilute it with water or choose brands with reduced sugar, but avoid artificial sweeteners. Pop and other carbonated beverages should be avoided entirely.
The truth about fluoride
Most Canadians are exposed to fluorides on a daily basis through trace amounts that are found in foods and municipal drinking water. The use of fluoride to prevent dental cavities is endorsed by over 90 national and international professional health organizations, including Health Canada and the Canadian Dental Association, but the CDA recommends that no fluoride supplements be given to children under the age of six. For younger children who are prone to developing tooth decay, a dentist may prescribe topical fluoride treatments to help prevent further damage.
Visiting the dentist for the first time
The timing of your child’s first trip to the dentist will depend on when their first tooth emerges. The Canadian Dental Association recommends taking a child for their first dental check-up within six months of the eruption of the first tooth or by one year of age. Many parents think this is too early, but the reason for an early check-up is to prevent any issues from arising. At the very least, parents should take their child to the dentist by the time they are three and showcasing a full set of teeth. After the first trip to the dentist, children should visit the dentist twice a year for regular check-ups.