A little one’s toothy grin is one of life’s greatest joy givers. So, how do we keep it that way? In celebration of National Oral Health Month, we asked dentists to share their top tips on how parents can best care for their baby’s and toddler’s pearly whites. Here’s what they told us: 1. Take a trip to the dentist ASAP. The 'ASAP' here means you take your child to the dentist as soon as her first tooth erupts or by her first birthday, whichever comes first. It's a crucial first visit; dentists make their initial assessment, and you’re taught how to take proper care of your child's teeth.
“Do not bring them when there is already a problem or if there is already pain because they will associate going to the dentist with something painful,” pediatric dentist Dr. Nina Tayag-Atotubo, a member of the Philippine Pediatric Dental Society Inc. (PPDSI) told SmartParenting.com.ph. “They will start to be fearful about each visit, and it might create a traumatic experience for them. Prevention is always better than cure.”
2. Don’t put the baby to sleep with a bottle. Have you heard of baby bottle tooth decay? It's extensive decay of baby teeth due to prolonged exposure to sweetened liquids or natural sugars like formula milk and fruit juice. Prolonged exposure usually happens when you use a bottle during bedtime, and some milk stays in your child’s mouth overnight. When bacteria in the mouth mixes with the sugar in the milk, the reaction can produce acid that causes decay.
“Be conscious of what is left in your child’s mouth while she sleeps. Any liquids that may contain sugar can cause demineralization of the teeth and eventually a cavity,” Dr. Georgina Roa-Remulla, director of the PDSI, told SmartParenting.
Try your best to avoid putting your little one to sleep with a bottle. And, make sure to take the bottle away if you notice your child isn’t drinking anymore or he is only using his bottle for comfort.
3. Check the label for fluoride. Baby only has one tooth? You should still brush it with a soft toothbrush, using the right toothpaste. “Fluoridated toothpaste should be used as soon as the first tooth erupts. Fluoride is the best protection against dental cavities,” Dr. Carina De los Reyes, former president of PPDSI, told SmartParenting.
For children 3 years old and below, check the packaging if the toothpaste has 1,000 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride then smear a thin layer of onto your child’s toothbrush. It’s okay if your child has yet to learn how to spit, says Dr. De los Reyes. Ingesting this amount of toothpaste is safe for children in this age group.
For children 3 to 6 years old, check for 1,000 ppm of fluoride then place a pea-size amount of toothpaste. For children above 6 years old, toothpaste with up to 1,500 ppm of fluoride is recommended. Half a toothbrush of toothpaste is enough.
Visit your child’s dentist every three to six months as well for a routine application of fluoride varnish, adds Dr. De los Reyes. It’s an added layer of protection against tooth decay.
4. Brush. Twice. Daily. Dentists can’t stress it enough. Parents should instill the habit of brushing from a young age. For all children with teeth, brush at least twice a day, says Dr. Roa-Remulla. “Brushing before bedtime is the most important,” she adds. You don’t want tooth-rotting sugar left on your child’s pearly whites for several hours overnight, do you?
Incorporate brushing into your child’s morning and bedtime routine. Once the routine is set, and your child is fully accustomed to it, brushing twice a day becomes easier. To make cleaning the teeth more fun for your child, let her pick her toothbrush. A toothbrush with her favorite character on it or one that lights up will entice your child to brush more. Egg timers and songs are a great way to ensure your child doesn’t rush with brushing her chompers. You can find great brush-along-tunes along with a few other tips on how to get kids into the habit of brushing here.
5. Stick to unsweetened snacks. Taste preferences begin early in life, according to the American Heart Society (AHS), so as young as now, steer him away from junk food. “Snacks with added sugar will make a baby get used to the sweet food and encourage sugary foods when the child grows older,” says Dr. De los Reyes. “Sugary foods can cause early dental cavities.”
Plus, according to AHS, children ages 2 and below don’t even need sugar in their diet. “There is little room for food and beverages containing added sugars that don’t provide them with good nutrition.” Included in the sugary foods category are sweetened beverages like juice and soda. Stick to water, especially during mealtimes, so your child doesn’t get used to asking for instant powdered iced tea or orange juice.