February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. To celebrate the occasion, we spoke with Elise Sarvas, D.D.S., M.P.H., a board certified pediatric dentist and clinical assistant professor at the School of Dentistry, to get some tips and tricks parents can follow to ensure their child’s pearly whites stay healthy.
Since 2000, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has recommended a child’s first visit to the dentist be on their first birthday or by the time their first tooth emerges, whichever comes first. Not only does this familiarize kids with routine visits, but it’s also crucial for cavity prevention as well as monitoring the growth and development of the child.
Prepare for the first dental visit
If your child’s first visit is around their first birthday, simply rub a clean washcloth on the teeth and gums leading up to the appointment. This gets them used to the idea of having someone in their mouth. If your child is older and more aware of the situation, picture books and video clips about dental visits are great options to help them prepare.
Make the first visit planned and fun
Some children first see a dentist in the emergency department because they have had a tooth injury or tooth infection. Often times the child then associates the dentist with pain. To overcome existing feelings of anxiety, frame dental visits as learning experiences. Highlight the cool tools they’ll get to interact with like the adjustable chair, the special toothbrushes used and the x-ray machine.
Avoid sticky snacks and beverages
Snacks in between mealtimes are a great way to curb hunger and keep kids occupied on the go; however, it’s best to avoid foods and drinks like crackers, fruit snacks, candy, juice and milk. Crackers, fruit snacks and candy are known for sticking directly to the teeth, feeding the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Some healthier snacking options that are less likely to cause cavities include fresh fruits, vegetables, nut butters and sandwich meats. If a child is going to carry around a cup or bottle, water is a healthier option than juice or milk. Juice is high in both acid and sugar which break down teeth and feed cavity-causing bacteria. Also, milk has a lot of sticky proteins that can help other snack foods latch on. It’s not reasonable to avoid these beverages at all costs; simply limit them to meal times.
A few minutes of flossing a day keeps the dentist away
In addition to brushing, flossing regularly is key to a healthy mouth. Kids should floss as soon as their teeth begin touching. Parents can introduce this habit by demonstrating with floss picks. Because of their small size, these tools are easiest to use in their child’s tiny mouth. Not only does flossing clean in between the teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach, but it also removes food trapped near the gumline, preventing cavities, gingivitis and dental infections.