By: Mary Kenyon Jones, MEd., DHEC Division of Oral Health
Tooth decay is the most common disease affecting children. It is five times more common that asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. The good news is that it is preventable! With good home care and regular visits to the dentist beginning at age 1, your child can live a life free from tooth decay.
Mouth Care For Infants – 3+
Even before teeth arrive your child’s mouth can be protected. Parents and caregivers can use a clean wet cloth or gauze to gently wipe their child’s gums, cheeks, lips and tongue. After teeth begin to arrive, your child’s teeth should be brushed twice a day with a soft bristle, child-sized toothbrush. For children ages 1-3, use a smear of toothpaste with fluoride. After age 3, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste with fluoride. Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing. It is good to avoid rinsing with water to help maximize the benefit of the fluoride in the toothpaste.
Get a Brushing Routine
To make things easier, create a “toothbrushing routine.” The routine can include playing music, getting things set up, and using a favorite toothbrush. Try and stick to the same routine every day. Model good oral health by letting your child see you brushing your teeth.
Be a Brushing Coach
A child should be supervised while brushing their teeth until at least age 7 to ensure they are brushing properly. Ideally you should brush teeth twice a day for at least two minutes. It is important to note that toothbrushes should be changed every three to four months, or sooner if your child chews on it or has been sick.
Healthy Mouth Nutrition
What, when and how often your child eats directly affects their oral health. Parents and caregivers should encourage children to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and healthy dairy products such as milk, cottage cheese, cheese and unsweetened yogurt. Encourage your child to drink water that contains fluoride. Discourage constant eating and drinking between meals.
Foods containing sugar should only be served at mealtimes and in limited amounts. Candy, cookies, cake and sweetened drinks increase your child’s risk of tooth decay. Sticky foods such as fruit roll-ups, caramels and chewy candies should be avoided.
A healthy lifestyle that includes good nutritional habits will help support your child’s oral health and overall health!