By fostering good oral health habits in a child’s first years of life, parents can promote a lifetime of healthy smiles. Make sure your child’s smile gets off to a good start by eliminating the following habits.

Thumb-sucking and pacifier use

It's both normal and healthy for a baby to suck on their thumb or a pacifier. However, prolonged thumb-sucking can interfere with normal tooth and jaw development if the habit doesn’t cease before permanent teeth appear. Most children outgrow these habits on their own before the age of 4. But if your child is having difficulty giving up their thumb or pacifier, talk to your dentist for tips to prevent misalignment of the teeth and other dental complications.

Misusing baby bottles and sippy cups

Frequent, prolonged exposure of a baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar, like milk and juice, is a leading cause of childhood tooth decay. That’s why parents should never put their baby to bed with a bottle that contains any liquid other than water. The same can be said for sippy cups, as constantly sipping sweetened drinks throughout the day prevents a child’s natural saliva from rinsing away sugars that will otherwise linger on teeth to feed bacteria and eventually cause decay. Parents should limit milk and juice to mealtime and have children drink water following the consumption of any sugary beverage.

Using teeth as tools

As children get older, they may develop unhealthy habits such as nail biting or gnawing on pencils. Parents should discourage children from using their teeth when other tools should be used, as it can cause serious damage to enamel and expose the tooth root, leaving teeth susceptible to decay.

Sipping sodas and sugary beverages

One of the best ways to promote healthy teeth and gums for kids is to encourage healthy and nutritious food and beverage choices at home. This means steering children away from sugary soda drinks — a major contributor of tooth decay. Acids in soft drinks soften tooth enamel, which leads to the formation of cavities. Parents should limit the number of soft drinks children are allowed and offer healthier alternatives instead, like water.

Swallowing toothpaste

Toddlers and young children are especially prone to swallowing fun flavored toothpaste when brushing. If an excessive amount of fluoride is ingested into a child’s small body, it can cause a condition known as fluorosis, which in severe cases can cause discoloration of the tooth enamel. To prevent children from swallowing too much toothpaste, parents should supervise their child when brushing. They should ensure that only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is used as well as teach them how to brush and rinse properly.

Improper brushing

A fundamental part of keeping teeth and gums healthy is twice-daily brushing — but only if it’s done correctly. To ensure all areas of the teeth are brushed thoroughly, parents should demonstrate proper brushing techniques and supervise children until they are ready to brush independently. Make cleaning teeth fun by brushing to music to ensure all surfaces are cleaned for a full two minutes in the morning and before bed.

Putting off visits to the dentist

It is especially important that you establish your child’s relationship with the dentist early — not when a problem occurs. The American Dental Association recommends that a child start visiting the dentist by his or her first birthday. Dentists can assess a child’s current dental health, identify risks for decay and other oral health problems, and instruct the parent and child on proper ways to care for teeth. Choose a dentist who specializes in dental care for kids to make each visit a positive experience while building a lifetime of good dental habits.

 

When it comes to a child’s oral health, parents play a critical role in establishing a daily routine and helping their kids understand the importance of proper oral hygiene. Encouraging healthy dental habits early and putting a halt to bad ones now can help prevent an array of dental problems down the road and, ultimately, promote healthy teeth and gums into adulthood.

 

Author Bio: Bonnie Coberly is a Certified Health Counselor and a holistic health counselor at Natural Horizons Wellness Centers. Natural Horizons Wellness Centers offers services in oral health, weight loss, and addiction abuse.

 
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