5 tips to help set your child up for a lifetime of healthy dental habits

5 tips to help set your child up for a lifetime of healthy dental habits

Let’s face it: It may not always be easy to convince your child to brush his or her teeth twice per day. But establishing a good routine now may help create proper habits that last into adulthood, which may help contribute to overall well-being and a healthier smile.

Good dental care can begin before your child’s first tooth even appears – and then continue as new teeth pop in. Some parents may assume that cavities in baby teeth aren’t a concern, because they aren’t permanent. But dental decay in baby teeth may negatively affect permanent teeth and lead to other issues, like pain, infection and issues with speaking. 

With February being National Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s an important reminder that good oral health plays a role in a child’s overall well-being and development.

Here are five tips to consider to help build healthier dental habits: 

1. Start early

Good oral health habits should start early. While tooth decay is largely preventable, it unfortunately ranks as the most common chronic condition among children. The following cleaning guidelines are recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA) (pdf) from birth to early childhood:

  • Babies (birth to 1 year)
    Clean your baby’s gums with water and a soft cloth.
  • Toddlers (1-3 years)
    Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a small dab of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice), parents may start brushing a toddler’s teeth for two minutes, twice a day.
  • Children (4 years and up)
    At this point, your child likely has a full set of baby teeth. Help your child floss and continue brushing their teeth twice a day, increasing to a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, until you’re comfortable with them brushing on their own. Continue to supervise to help ensure they’re not swallowing any toothpaste.

2. Teach good toothbrushing techniques

The ADA recommends brushing with a soft-bristled brush and replacing it as bristles get frayed — or every three to four months. With an appropriate amount of fluoride toothpaste, teach your child to move their brush back and forth at a 45-degree angle to the gums. Make sure they brush the outer, inner and chewing surfaces. If you’re struggling to help motivate your child, these tips may help.  

3. Keep up with cleanings

Starting dental visits from a young age may be an important factor in showing the value of good oral health. Dental checkups may begin as soon as their first tooth appears but no later than a child’s first birthday, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

During your child’s dental checkup, the dentist will check to make sure his or her teeth are developing normally and check for any decay or other issues. Checkups are recommended every six months, but you can check with your dental provider to see how often your child should visit, based on their oral health.

You may also want to consider talking to your dental provider – and check with your dental plan – to see about the availability of virtual appointments for consultations or (as needed) for certain dental incidents that may require immediate evaluation. For instance, UnitedHealthcare dental plans include two virtual dental appointments with no cost sharing, helping offer access to dental advice anywhere and anytime.  

4. Limit sugar

Diet plays a key role in dental health, and too much sugar may put your child at risk for cavities. In fact, 1 out of 10 2-year-old’s have one or more cavities. This number only increases by age 6 to 8, more than 50% of children having one or more cavities. This doesn’t mean your child can’t have sugar, but you may want to consider brushing their teeth after a sugary treat or beverage. Importantly, never put a baby to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid, as the liquids can form a sugary film on the baby’s teeth and lead to infection. 

5. Consider alternative treatments

If your child continues to get cavities no matter how much they brush and floss, you may consider some proactive measures.

  • Fluoride: Even if you live in an area where your water is fluoridated, you may consider using fluoride supplements for your child to help strengthen tooth enamel. Ask their dentist for recommendations.
  • Sealants: If your child is at greater risk for decay, you may consider sealants. These are plastic coatings placed on your child’s molars to help protect them. This option is sometimes covered as a preventive service by dental plans, so ask your dentist if this may be an option.
  • Silver diamine fluoride: If your child is getting a significant number of cavities, you may consider asking your dentist about silver diamine fluoride, which may help prevent decay from worsening.

By considering these tips, you may help teach your child to value their dental health and, in turn, create an overall healthier routine that may last a lifetime.