Helping Children Build a Healthy Smile


February is National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM), so it’s time to brush up on children’s dental hygiene. They often need a little help with their brushing and flossing, and they rely on their parents, teachers, and their Boise dentist to develop healthy hygiene habits.

The slogan for the 2019 NCDHM campaign is “Brush and clean in between to build a healthy smile.” Tooth decay is the most chronic illness and children, and simply getting most kids (and adults, for that matter) to brush twice per day would be a great start in combating it.

Brushing your teeth has become so routine for most of us that we forget how complex an activity it is. We coast through on autopilot, but children might need it broken down into simple steps. They are still learning to do it properly, and the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that kids be supervised during nighttime oral hygiene until around age ten.

Consider these tips from Modern Dental to help teach your kids healthy habits for life and reinforce good dental hygiene.

Brush and Clean in Between to Build a Healthy Smile

Be a Role Model
There are few things that will serve your family better than turning dental care into a family affair. When children see their parents floss, it emphasizes the importance of the routine and it becomes a grown-up thing to do. Model the ideal behavior yourself, and your children will follow. Brushing and flossing as a family also allows you to keep an eye on your kids, ensuring they do the job thoroughly.

Healthy Eating
Your kids don’t have to copy your Paleo diet to learn the importance of nutrition. I’m a big fan of letting kids be kids, but it’s also important to educate our families about healthy eating. A good foundation to start with is limiting sugar intake and soft drinks, particularly at bedtime.

Give Them Some Control
A useful parenting technique is to give children the illusion of choice. They have to brush their teeth, but if you make a big deal out of letting them choose their toothbrush and flavor of toothpaste, they’ll be more compliant. It’s simple to keep several choices of fluoride toothpaste on hand (with their favorite characters on display), and it pays dividends.

Keep Time
Some of the fancier electric toothbrushes have timers built in, but any standard egg timer will do the trick. You can even go the extra mile to get a two-minute dental timer or use a mobile app to play a song. Just ensure that your children are brushing for at least two minutes, twice a day.

Consistency Is Key
To help your kids build a lifetime habit, it’s important to be consistent. They receive mixed messages if one night you make a big deal out flossing and the next night it slips your mind. Establish a regular routine and make sure dental health plays a key part in it. You can even use goal charts to help them track their progress, with rewards for consistency.

Advice for New Parents From the AAPD

Sometimes the amount of information and debate that comes out can be overwhelming to parents of young children. Modern media frequently present headlines with misleading information, such as articles about how there’s no need to floss and that fluoride is bad for you. Trust your dental professionals with your oral health more than sensation-seeking headlines.

Former American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) President Dr. Jade Miller adds his thoughts to the conversation:

“Parents are bombarded with unsolicited advice and health findings that are constantly changing. We don’t want to add to that stress, but there are a few common misconceptions, that if cleared up, could help make a huge difference in your child’s oral health – which is linked to their overall health and wellness.”

As tooth decay is nearly 100 percent preventable, what are a few fundamental things that young parents should know about children’s dental health? The AAPD gives these four tips:

  1. When it comes to sugary treats and beverages, it’s how often, not how much. Grazing on candy or soda throughout the day leads to prolonged sugar exposure, which greatly increases kids’ risk of tooth decay. Instead, sticking to designated meal and snack times can help minimize the risk.

2. Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle.
Many new parents are completely oblivious to “baby bottle tooth decay,” now known as early childhood caries. Milk contains sugar, which means that the baby’s young teeth are being attacked by acids from that sugar all night. Give water rather than juice or milk as a thirst quencher for your baby.

3. Wean children off their pacifiers by age three.
Prolonged use of a pacifier (and thumb sucking) can increase the risk of cavities and interfere with the normal development of the jaws and teeth.

4. Avoid topical teething gels and frozen teething rings.
The FDA warns against the use of teething gels to numb sore gums because they contain benzocaine or lidocaine, which could cause severe health problems or death. Even teething rings can be harmful when frozen, as they become brittle and prone to breaking. If you want to chill a teething ring, keep it in the refrigerator – not the freezer.

Don’t Forget the Basics

Childhood tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood illness, and it can result in more than just a cavity or two. If left untreated, it can cause malnourishment, bacterial infections, and impediments to eating, speaking, and learning.

The good news about childhood tooth decay is that it’s preventable. That’s why we observe National Children’s Dental Health Month in the first place – because we know awareness leads to prevention, and prevention makes all the difference in the world.

Protect your loved ones by making oral health a family affair. Schedule a cleaning for the entire household with our Boise dental practice and you can set the example for your children.

Dr. Travis Royce