Dental Care

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Reprinted with permission by Vicki Lansky.

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Diet is the first line of defense for good dental care; between meal snacks and highly sugared foods contribute to decay. Frequent brushings remove the plaque that leads to decay. Brushing after snacks, even healthful ones like raisins or fruit juice, is particularly important. Toddlers and preschoolers, however enthusiastic, need help with toothbrushing; the manual dexterity necessary to thoroughly clean every surface of every tooth doesn’t develop until the age of six or seven. To show your child where plaque collects on teeth and where decay can start, use a disclosing solution that you buy at the drugstore.

Your child’s routine dental exams should begin, dentists recommend, when two or three teeth are in. Some parents take their children to their regular family dentists; others prefer pedodontists, who are specially trained to deal with the anxieties and emotions of youngsters. It is as important for a dentist to watch the shape of the child’s mouth – to check the child’s bite-as to check for cavities.

Toothbrushing Routines:

  • Consider cleaning your infant’s first tooth or two with a small gauze pad, with or without toothpaste. Rub the pad over the teeth and gums very gently to remove plaque and food debris. You’ll probably find it easier to do this with the child’s head on your lap.

  • Let your child use an electric toothbrush if he or she likes the vibration. The cordless kinds are the easiest to handle. At least let him or her use the little brush – it’s small enough to fit a tiny mouth.

  • Offer a selection of toothbrushes, in all colors, and one or more toothpastes that the child likes. The small samples or travel sizes are favorites. (You may find that mint flavored toothpastes are too strong for your child’s sensitive taste buds.)

  • Try using an egg timer, with the rule that brushing continues until the sand is down. Or use a kitchen timer set for specific length of time, or for a change, a music box or a record.

  • Let the child brush in the tub sometimes, where he or she can splatter, drool and gargle to heart’s content.

  • Let your child perform toothbrushing routines with you, both for the company and so you can set an example. Some children are even allowed to brush their parents’ teeth so they can perfect their techniques.

  • Hang a small mirror at the child’s eye level so he or she can watch the action.

  • Get across EARLY the idea that the tooth fairy pays a whole lot more for a perfect tooth than for a decayed one. In some families, the tooth fairly leaves with the “payment” a note praising the child for good dental habits.

Ask Dr. Susan