For better or for worse, habits that we form at young ages stay with us for the rest of our lives. That means that it’s important to teach your child good oral health habits so they can enjoy a lifetime of happy, healthy smiles! Bad oral habits are a common cause of poor dental health in children, and can make it difficult for your child to function at school and home. Furthermore, leaving them unaddressed can lead to cosmetic or structural damage to their teeth. Don’t worry—good oral habits are easy to build and reinforce, and are how you can keep your child’s smile healthy for years to come.

Many parents want to help their child break their bad dental habits but aren’t sure where to begin. Educating them on how these habits can impact their teeth and working on some minor behavior modification is a good bet, but severe cases may require dental intervention. Here at Children’s Dental Center, we’re all about helping your child achieve a healthy, functional, and beautiful smile. Read on to learn more about keeping your child’s smile happy, healthy, and gleaming!

Give them the right tools for the job

When thinking about ways to improve your child’s dental hygiene routine, you should always start with the basics. The state of their toothbrush is a perfect example. Many people think that firmer bristles are better at cleaning the teeth, but this isn’t true! Firm-bristled toothbrushes can actually irritate your child’s gums and may lead to sensitive teeth. For extra comfort and better results, stick with a soft-bristled toothbrush instead, and be sure they use gentle, circular strokes to clean the teeth and gums.

Did you know that you should replace your child’s toothbrush (and your own) every 3-4 months? All toothbrushes, whether they’re manual or electric, have a limited lifespan. General use wears down bristles and makes the toothbrush less effective over time. Most toothbrushes have indicators to help you tell when they need to be replaced. Look for a soft-bristled toothbrush, as these get the job done as well as firmer bristles while being gentler on your teeth and gums. 

As far as brushing goes, look for toothpaste with the American Dental Association (ADA) seal to verify that it is safe and effective for your child. The ADA seal ensures that a particular toothpaste has been objectively tested and approved as safe by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs. Their seal of approval is usually located on the toothpaste box and tube, and can help you ensure that your child is using toothpaste that’s safe for their mouth. 

It’s important to choose an age-appropriate toothpaste for your child. Some toothpastes designed for adults consist of harsh ingredients that may erode and wear away their tooth enamel, the protective outer coating of the teeth. Although abrasives are great for polishing and removing plaque from adults’ teeth, the large amounts of phosphates and alumina found in certain toothpastes can be too strong for a young child’s enamel, and may actually cause their teeth to become overly sensitive. To ensure you’re using a toothpaste gentle enough for your child’s teeth, our doctors would be happy to recommend one which is age appropriate and most beneficial for your child’s smile!

The ADA recommends that children of all ages should be using a toothpaste that contains fluoride to protect their teeth against plaque buildup and cavities. It’s important, however, to keep an eye on the amount of fluoridated toothpaste that your child is consuming, especially in younger children. The advised amount for kids three and under is just a “smear” of toothpaste, while a pea-sized amount is recommended for older children. Children under two are generally unable to spit out their toothpaste, so we generally suggest using a toothpaste without fluoride until they are old enough to do so reliably.

Finally, the flavor of a toothpaste isn’t really relevant to how effective it is at maintaining dental health, but choosing a toothpaste that tastes good will certainly make a difference to how excited your child is about brushing their teeth! Many children dislike toothpaste with a more traditional mint or spearmint flavor because it can be too “spicy” for them and makes their mouth tingle. Kids tend to be much more willing to brush consistently when you offer them toothpaste flavors that are a little more fun, such as strawberry or bubblegum. Finding a flavor of toothpaste your child can get excited about will encourage them to create the kind of good dental hygiene habits that will last a lifetime. 

How To Keep Your Child's Smile Healthy

Teach them a great oral hygiene routine

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice we can give, and it’s simple: get your child in the habit of caring for their teeth! By doing so at an early age, you can teach them the importance of a healthy smile and make it a part of their daily routine!

These basic oral health guidelines will help your child maintain clean teeth and a healthy mouth:  

• Brush at least three times a day, ideally after each meal and once before bed.

• Use fluoride toothpaste and a toothbrush with soft bristles.

• Brush gently at a 45-degree angle toward the gum line, moving the toothbrush in a circular pattern across the teeth to effectively remove bacteria and any trapped food particles.

• Floss at least once per day to remove bacteria and any food that has accumulated throughout the day.

• Replace their toothbrush every 3-4 months, or sooner if you have a cold or any other illness.

• Use antimicrobial and fluoride mouthwashes to help further improve their oral health.

If your child is wearing braces, clear aligners, or other orthodontic apparatuses, take the time to make sure that they fully understand how to thoroughly clean their teeth and their apparatus. Not only can most orthodontic treatments increase their risk of dental issues, but tooth decay, receding gums, and other such problems can increase their treatment times and may impact their results.

If they’re wearing braces, we recommend:

• brushing around every part of their braces

• brushing every surface of every tooth

• brushing until their brackets are clean and shiny

• flossing every night before they go to bed

• using tools like floss threaders and Waterpiks to clean hard-to-reach areas

If your child wears clear aligners, they should follow the same basic guidelines for dental hygiene, but they’ll also need to care for your aligners. Remind them to always rinse them off before putting them in their mouth, and to clean them well with soap and water at least twice a day. 

Limit their sugar intake

A balanced diet can help decrease a child’s risk of developing cavities by providing your child with the vitamins and nutrients they need to develop healthy, cavity-resistant teeth. Parents should limit sugar-laden foods, juices, and candy that erode enamel and leave behind harmful bacteria. Liquid medicine or gummy vitamins that have been sweetened can be an issue as well. If a child is allowed one of these as a treat, or needs medication, they should be encouraged to brush their teeth and rinse well afterwards to wash away the sugar.

The above is easy enough to manage when you’re in charge of the menu, but when kids go back to school, it can be more difficult to monitor what your child is eating. This is especially true if they prefer to buy their lunch rather than take a packed one. If this is the case with your child, check the school menu ahead of time so you’ll know what options are available. 

Go over the menu with your child and discuss how important it is to make healthy choices such as whole grains, raw veggies, milk, cheese, yogurt, and fruit. And don’t forget about after-school snacks! Be sure to have plenty of delicious, mouth-healthy items stocked in the kitchen ahead of time.

The importance of regular dental checkups

As children grow, parents should plan on scheduling routine dental checkups about every six months, depending on what our dentists recommend for your child. At each of these checkups, we will complete an oral examination, clean your child’s teeth thoroughly, and apply fluoride. 

Not only will this help your child’s mouth stay healthy, but it will help us initiate a positive relationship with our young patients. These regular visits allow us to build a rapport with children, and we are able to use this time to reiterate the importance of maintaining an excellent oral hygiene routine at home. Regular checkups and good dental hygiene can help prevent cavities and the need for dental work in the future, and reduce dental anxiety down the line. 

How To Keep Your Child's Smile Healthy

Give your child a lifetime of smiles with Children’s Dental Center!

Dental visits with the expert doctors at Children’s Dental Center should begin with the appearance of a child’s first tooth, but no later than their first birthday. These visits allow us to monitor your child’s dental development and treat any potential problems as they arise. Early and regular visits also give your child the chance to become familiar with our office and our staff, so they can look forward to visits as an important and exciting part of dental care as they get older. 

A child’s first dental visit is usually short and will involve little or no treatment. Medical and health forms will be completed, and a dental and medical history of the child will be taken. After a comprehensive examination, our dentists will sit with parents and discuss topics such as:

  • good oral hygiene practices for healthy teeth and cavity prevention
  • fluoride needs
  • oral habits, such as thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, and lip sucking
  • developmental milestones and potential issues
  • teething
  • proper nutrition
  • the scheduling of dental checkups

During the examination, our dentists will check a child’s teeth for decay, examine his or her bite, and look for any potential problems with the gums, jaw, and oral tissues. 

Ready to help your child take the first step in a lifetime of healthy smiles? Get in touch with our offices in Collierville, Midtown, Arlington, or Mid-Memphis to schedule a consultation!