February is National Children's Dental Health Month, so we thought we'd take a little time to answer some common questions about how to care for your little one's teeth.
Q: At what age should children begin brushing their teeth on their own?
A (Dr. Baker): Usually a child is capable of brushing well when he/she has the manual dexterity to tie shoes. Proper tooth brushing actually takes more dexterity than tying shoelaces, but it is a good time to begin the transition.
Q: My daughter still has little spaces between all her teeth. Does she need to floss?
A (Dr. Baker): Even if her teeth have spaces between them, flossing now is a great way to establish that habit for when she is older. She may also have closer contacts than you realize between her teeth in the back, so starting the flossing habit now will make sure to keep all her teeth healthy - even the ones you don't always see.
Q: I have seen little picks pre-threaded with floss. Are those good for kids to use?
A (Dr. Baker): While regular floss is the ideal, the floss picks are great for kids because they can use them without help. We find that kids are more often willing to use one of those flossers than a regular strand of dental floss. I say any tool that helps them to learn to floss regularly is a good thing!
Q: When should my baby have his first dental appointment?
A (Dr. Baker): I like to see babies in my office as soon as they start getting teeth. We call this a "happy visit" and use it as an opportunity to introduce your child to our office in a non-threatening way. We have lots of fun staff members who are great with kids, an excellent prize box (my kids picked out all the prizes), as well as children's books about oral health and even a multi-layer tooth puzzle. Since dental fear in one of the main reasons people stay away, we want to make sure your little one starts off with a positive impression of visiting the dentist. We also use this appointment to discuss with you any concerns or questions you might have about your son's dental health and take a quick peek in his mouth to make sure everything is healthy and developing normally. After this initial visit, we usually start seeing kids for cleanings and exams on a regular basis when they are about 4 years old.
Q: What are the main dental issues you see in children?
A (Dr. Baker): The issues I see most frequently are trauma (from a fall or other accident) and tooth decay. Aside from the normal precautions, there's not always a lot you can do to prevent accidents, but the good new is there IS a lot you can do to prevent tooth decay. Sugary foods (even healthy ones like raisins, crackers, and milk) can cause tooth decay. The best way to manage this is to serve food and drinks at meal times and snack times but not have them available for grazing during the rest of the day. Milk carried around in bottles or sippy cups can be especially problematic since your baby's teeth will be constantly bathed in sugar. Fluoride is another important way to fight tooth decay. Since it shouldn't be ingested in large quantities, make sure you don't let your child use fluoride toothpaste until he/she is able to spit. In the meantime, we can apply a topical fluoride "varnish" in our office at around age 4 or sooner as needed.
Hopefully this information has been helpful. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask in the comment area below or send us a message!