February is Children’s Dental Health month! Encouraging healthy dental care habits should be an everyday parenting priority, but this is a great time to make sure your child masters the ins and outs of caring for her teeth.
Follow these age-specific dental care tips to help your child develop healthy habits and a sparkling smile:
Infants & Toddlers (Ages 0-2)
- Get a head start. Don’t wait for your child’s first tooth to start practicing brushing! Take advantage of the fact that, starting around 3 months, babies welcome the opportunity to put just about everything in their mouths. For the first few months, use a soft, wet washcloth to wipe and gently “clean” his gums. As your baby gets older, transition to a soft-bristled baby toothbrush that will allow you to safely go through the motions of daily brushing.
- Use age-appropriate toothpaste. Be sure to pick a toothpaste specifically made for babies and toddlers. These gentle toothpastes are easy to find and intentionally fluoride-free (children under the age of two shouldn’t use fluoride toothpaste, unless specifically recommended by a doctor or dentist). Limit the amount of toothpaste your baby uses to the size of a pea.
- Visit a dentist. Although it may seem early, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children go for their first checkup with a dentist when the first tooth breaks through, but no later than age 1, even if your baby is still toothless. Starting visits early will keep you informed on your child’s dental health and help him get accustomed to seeing the dentist.
Preschoolers & Pre-Kindergarteners (3-5 years old):
- Make brushing a routine. As your child gets older and more independent in her daily tasks, it’s helpful to encourage brushing teeth as part of her regular routine. For 3 to 5 year-olds just beginning to learn important skills like planning and following through, remembering to brush their teeth can be difficult, even if they enjoy it! Remind your child to brush at certain times each day to establish a set routine, or even create a daily checklist for her to mark off with the number of times she needs to brush.
- Be present for the process. While your child will naturally seem more capable than in their toddler years, you’ll still want to stick around for the brushing. This is helpful not only to make sure it happens, but also to make sure your child doesn’t race through the process more quickly than the recommended two minutes. Children’s toothpaste usually tastes yummy, so you’ll want to make sure your child uses the correct amount and remembers not to swallow it when they’re finished.
- Visit the dentist regularly. It’s best to take your little one for a cleaning and checkup every 6 months to ensure they’re keeping up their healthy habits and developing normally, according the American Academy of Pediatrics. Use these tips to help your child feel comfortable and prepared for dentist or doctor visits.
Elementary age (6 years old and up):
- Keep up the good work.The healthy habits you’ve encouraged in your child’s early years remain equally important as he gets older, especially as he welcomes shiny new adult teeth. While it’s best to supervise children under the age of 6 when brushing, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your child’s routine until they are at least 7 or 8 to ensure toothbrushing doesn’t fall off his daily to-do list. Make a point to regularly “spot check” your little one’s technique to be sure that all of his teeth are being equally well cared for – even the easily-forgotten teeth in the way, way back!
For more dental care tips for kids, check out Dr. Jana’s book, Melvin the Magnificent Molar.