Maintaining Your Kids Oral Health at Every Stage

Tips and Tools from Dr. Jennifer Salzer

Hi, I’m Dr. Jennifer Salzer. I’m an associate faculty member at New York University College of Dentistry and own my own private practice in Manhattan. The holidays are right around the corner, and you know what that means – lots of smiles all around, but also lots of candy. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, so it’s important to teach your child early about the importance of maintaining good oral health, especially during candy-focused holidays like Halloween, the winter holidays, Valentine’s Day and Easter. Kids have very different oral care needs throughout their childhood, so parents should encourage good habits early on; I’m going to share with you my best tips and tools for maintaining your kid’s oral health at all stages of development.

Oral Care Tips Stage 1 (4-24 months)

  • To prevent the buildup of plaque, a soft, sticky bacteria containing deposits that accumulate on teeth and cause tooth decay, parents should begin by regularly cleaning their newborn baby’s gums with a damp washcloth after all feedings (breast or bottle).
  • When a child’s first tooth appears, parents should brush their child’s teeth for two minutes twice a day and switch to a child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush with a cushioned head, and a pea-sized dab of non-fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Parents should ask their pediatrician about when their child should visit the dentist, but a good rule of thumb is: “First visit by first birthday.” Additional visits should be scheduled every six months to ensure proper tooth development.

Oral Care Tips Stage 2 (2-4 years)

  • Children two and older should use fluoridated toothpaste to help prevent decay as their teeth continue to develop.
  • Supervise your child’s brushing until good habits are established. It is recommended that you spend two minutes brushing teeth, focusing on the teeth that conduct most of the chewing and back teeth, where cavities often first develop. I know that cleaning teeth may seem like a drag to some kids, so here are a few ideas to help make brushing fun for them:
    • Use a toothbrush that is designed to appeal to a toddler who is learning to brush and whose baby teeth are growing in. This brush is designed to effectively reach all teeth, with its narrow head, simple bristle pattern and a Power Tip.
    • Brush your teeth with your child to set a good example. This will help your child learn by watching and imitating you.
    • Sing your child’s favorite song, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” or play a song from their favorite singer, like Miley Cyrus, for the two minutes that they are brushing their teeth.
    • Recite your child’s favorite nursery rhyme, like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” while they are brushing their teeth.
    • For children two and older, parents need to be aware of the impact that nutrition and eating/drinking habits have on oral health as well as overall health. Parents can promote healthy habits by limiting sugary drinks, getting rid of the bottle and/or sippy cup and offering healthier meal and snack options.

Oral Care Tips Stage 3 (5-7 years)

  • Children five and older are starting to get their permanent molars, so it’s important to use a fluoridated toothpaste and toothbrush.

Oral Care Tips Stage 4 (8+ years)

  • Children eight and older should use a fluoridated toothpaste and toothbrush that is designed for a complex mixture of different-sized permanent and baby teeth.

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