“Time to Brush,” Ensign, July 2003, 72
Sometimes parents think that caring for their children’s baby teeth isn’t important because the teeth aren’t permanent. Not so. Early dental care contributes to overall better oral care for permanent teeth. As a mother of five and a licensed dental hygienist, I have a few quick tips for helping children establish good dental care routines.
Start dental care early. After nursing or giving a bottle, gently wipe your baby’s gums clean of milk with a warm, wet washcloth. Avoid baby bottle tooth decay by bottle feeding water at nap or bedtime instead of milk, formula, juices, or other sugary liquids. When your child begins to get teeth, gently brush them with a child-safe toothbrush or “finger brush.” Toothpaste is not yet necessary.
Help growing children brush and floss. As your children’s dexterity develops, let them experiment with brushing on their own—holding the toothbrush, pressing gently, and using a circular motion on their teeth. As with brushing, flossing takes a lot of coordination, and small children will struggle at first. After their best efforts at both, you may need to gently finish the job. Use a floss holder if needed.
Motivate your children. Some parents record on a chart each time their children brush and floss, then reward them when the chart is completed. Other helpful motivators include using fun toothbrushes with tasty toothpaste. Just make sure they don’t eat the toothpaste, which could cause a stomachache. Perhaps the best motivator is parental example. Your children will likely want to brush and floss if you do so regularly.
Schedule a “fun” dental visit. When children turn three or four, it’s a good time to schedule a “fun visit” to introduce them to the dental office. If they will let the dental professional look in their mouths or clean their teeth, all the better. When preparing children for their first dental appointment, use proper terminology and be careful not to share negative personal experiences. Avoid words like hurt, shot, pain, or be brave. Let the dental professional communicate with your children; avoid answering for them. Encouraging children to ask questions and talk gives them a sense of control and helps them to relax.
Your children’s formative years are full of new learning experiences. Since we want the best for them, let’s make sure we establish good foundational dental habits that will give them, and us as parents, reason to smile.
Tonya Winn Beutler, Hurricane Fifth Ward, Hurricane Utah Stake