Steps to Lifelong Dental Health for Your Child

Steps to Lifelong Dental Health for Your Child

Oral health is a key component to a healthy lifestyle. Good oral care habits need to start early. OU College of Dentistry pediatric dentist, Tim Fagan, D.D.S., MS, says it is important to foster healthy oral care habits in children. Parents can play a key role in their child’s dental health through hands-on care, routine visits, supplements and daily nutrition.

Why is oral healthcare from infancy so important?

This is an excellent time for the infant’s parents or guardians to learn how to raise their child to avoid cavities. Infants and toddlers haven’t developed hand coordination or skills to properly brush and floss their teeth, so it’s up to parents or guardians to help them. The first dental visit is recommended no later than the infant’s first birthday so that parents can learn how to care properly for their child’s teeth, establishing habits that support a lifetime of good oral health. Subsequent dental visits twice a year will reinforce these concepts and help ensure everything is being done to minimize dental problems as the child grows older.

  • Parents should assist their children with tooth-brushing routines until the child can tie their shoe laces on their own. Children must develop the necessary dexterity and coordination to effectively brush all tooth surfaces.
  • When the sides of a child’s teeth touch together, a parent should floss that area daily for the child. A toothbrush can’t effectively reach that space to remove food particles. In order to prevent cavities, this practice should continue until the child demonstrates the ability to accomplish this on their own - usually by 8 to 10 years of age.

How often should children see a dentist? When is it appropriate to see a dentist more than twice a year?

Most children should have a dental exam, professional cleaning and fluoride treatment every six months. Children who do so usually have fewer dental problems. Children who experience frequent dental issues such as cavities may benefit from having dental cleanings every three months.

  • First dental visit is recommended when a child’s first tooth comes in, around 6 months of age, and no later than the first birthday.

When should fluoride be considered?

Fluoride is Mother Nature’s naturally occurring dental cavity prevention agent. Fluoride helps build strong teeth and makes them more resistant to dental decay. That’s why it’s recommended that everyone brush his or her teeth with a toothpaste that contains fluoride and drink fluoridated water. Water treated with fluoride reduces tooth decay by at least 25% in children and adults.

  • The Infant Oral Health Program at the OU College of Dentistry is designed to help parents learn the skills needed to raise children to be cavity-free.
  • When your child’s permanent molars start coming in (around 6 years of age), consider having sealants applied to the biting surfaces of these teeth to help prevent cavities.

What important nutritional guidance do you suggest for children to protect their teeth ( i.e., juices in bottles, candy, sodas for example)?

Your child’s best chance of staying cavity-free is to limit candy, sweets, juice, soda, sports drinks, sweetened beverages and the like to meal time only, and drink only water in between meals. This will offer some protection to teeth by decreasing the level of exposure to sugary drinks and candy. Consider replacing sugary snacks with ‘tooth-healthy’ snacks, like cheese, apples and nuts.

  • Around 12 to 14 months of age, ween your child from the baby bottle to prevent early dental decay.

Learn more about the pediatric dental services available at OU Health and read more about the Care of Children’s Mouth and Teeth.