A great way to start your little ones on the road to good oral health is to do it together as a family. Children learn better by mimicking their parents and older siblings, therefore having good dental habits as a family can help everyone enjoy having healthy teeth for life.
Here are 10 great tips to help your family better look after their oral health:
1. Start early
Good oral habits should begin even before the baby has teeth. Wipe baby’s gums at least twice a day with a finger wrapped in a towel, this helps to get them accustomed to the cleaning activity. When the first teeth emerge, regular cleaning using a rice grain-sized dot of fluoride toothpaste helps prevent the development of decay. Brush twice a day for two minutes. You can floss just once a day.
2. Brush together, twice a day
Maintaining good oral hygiene is still the primary defence against decay and gum disease. Parents who regularly brush and floss are educating their children to adopt the same healthy dental habits. It can also be a fun activity for family bonding as the parents and older siblings can help supervise and help the younger ones.
Good oral habits should begin even before the baby has teeth… When the first teeth emerge, regular cleaning using a rice grain-sized dot of fluoride toothpaste helps prevent the development of decay.
3. Make it fun
Buy a few different coloured toothbrushes and allow your little ones to pick their favourite one for the day. Young children will need help with brushing, and often it is the parent’s job to do this. When they are brushing their teeth, play games and tell interesting stories. For instance, pretend that you are the zookeeper and every tooth is a different animal that has to be cleaned or bathed. Or that the toothbrush is a spaceship landing on various interesting terrain. Competitions like who can brush and sing the longest can also help increase brushing time. In fact, this might even help mummy and daddy improve on their own brushing routine!
4. Use fluoridated toothpaste
Fluoride helps to make teeth more resistant to decay. Baby teeth are quite prone to decay as milk also contains its own sugars. For babies, use a rice -grain sized amount. Toddlers and young children who can spit and rinse, should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on their tooth brushes. Older children may be allowed to use either an adult formulation or a junior toothpaste with a milder taste. A mouthwash containing fluoride is also helpful for young ones and parents. In adults, fluoride also helps with sensitivity issues and reduces decay development.
5. Be consistent
Encourage brushing even when everyone is tired, sleepy or on holiday. The children have to learn that toothbrushing time is non-negotiable, like bathtime, and they have to stick to the routine even if they don’t feel like it. The best way to impart this is for parents to set good examples themselves. Start a daily brushing chart with happy face stickers that counts toward a coveted reward, like a visit to the zoo or watching a movie, to help them along the way.
6. Avoid/Limit sugary snacks and drinks
Establishing health eating habits will go a long way in preventing dental decay. Do not stock sweets and sugar-filled snacks or drinks at home. As adults, make healthier choices yourselves and don’t have double standards. Grazing on high sugar foods throughout the day is also a no-no, as the teeth are constantly under threat of decay. If your little ones have hunger pangs between meals, offer healthy substitutes like pizza bites, yoghurt, cheese cubes, apples, carrots, avocadoes and hard-boiled eggs. Water is the best drink to offer throughout the day as sipping a sweet juice all day can also encourage decay. As a precaution, teach your child to rinse his mouth or brush his teeth after eating, especially after consuming sweets or junk food.
Many people do not realise that decay is an infection. Decay-causing bacteria can be easily passed from one person to another when they share used items.
7. Do not share common items
Many people do not realise that decay is an infection that can be passed easily from one person to another by sharing food, utensils, toothbrushes or straws. Parents who have tooth decay should seek dental treatment and avoid sharing to avoid spreading the disease.
8. Visit the dentist by your child’s first birthday
Experts recommend scheduling your little one’s first dental appointment after the first tooth appears or by age 1. Early visits can help your child develop a positive attitude towards dental treatment.
Don’t wait till your child is in pain or has an emergency before taking him to the dentist, as he will associate the dental clinic with a negative and unfamiliar experience.
9. Prepare them for their first visit
Reading fun picture books about going to the dentist can ease any fear. It’ll also guide your little one as to what they might experience during the visit. However, do avoid over-preparing junior ― don’t use negative words like “It won’t be too painful” or “She won’t hurt you too much.” Visiting the dentist as a family will help your child accept the dental clinic as a place of comfort and not stress.
Approach the visit in a cheerful manner, and allow them to observe the parents or older siblings getting on the dental chair first. It may take a while before your child realises they have nothing to be afraid of, so resist the impulse to scold or hover over your child. The dentist and the assistant are trained to manage uncooperative children, so remain calm and let the professionals handle the visit.
10. Maintain twice-yearly dental appointments
Regular check-ups at the dental clinic can help prevent many dental problems before they get too serious. Early Childhood Caries is a chronic disease that is very common in Singapore and your child could have decay even if there are no signs or symptoms. Prevention and early intervention ensure that your child won’t have traumatic dental experiences. Make dental appointments more fun by scheduling appointments as a family, so it becomes another pleasant family outing. It encourages everyone (yes, even mum and dad) to visit the dentist regularly. Good dental health habits start at home and starting early ensures a lifetime of oral health.
Dr Yeo Siang Khin practises at Thomson Dental Centre.
This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Thomson Medical’s Celebrating Life magazine.
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