October is Dental Hygiene Awareness Month. But for many parents, the prospect of taking their child to the pediatric dentist sounds more like a Halloween nightmare.
Don’t panic! You can prepare a child so the visit isn’t scary at all. A good rule of thumb is to offer a general overview of what to expect: “The dentist will look at your teeth, take some pictures and clean your teeth with a special toothbrush.”
“If you, the parent, have any apprehension about dental visits, never pass that on to your child,” says Dr. Warren Brill, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). “Always tell them that the dentist is a person who is there to help keep them healthy and make sure they have pretty teeth and a pretty smile.”
RELATED: Tips for Proper Brushing Technique
In order to keep your child’s dental visits as painless and cavity-free as possible, here are 10 things that your pediatric dentist wants you to know:
1. Brush at least twice each day. Ideally, your child would always brush after eating, but aim for at least twice a day, including after dinner.
2. Use a toothpaste with fluoride. “Any toothpaste containing fluoride sold over the counter in the U.S. contains an effective, appropriate amount of fluoride,” says Dr. Joel Berg, past-president of the AAPD. Use a lentil-size amount for a child younger than 3 years and a slightly larger amount for older kids.
3. Make sure your child is brushing properly. If you’re not sure your child has fully grasped the right technique, you might want to do most of the brushwork yourself. When your child is a little older—maybe 7 or 8 years—you can just watch them as they brush. “Keep an eye on what they do,” says Dr. Brill. “And if you have to follow up, follow up.”
4. Schedule your child’s first dentist appointment by age 1 year. You might even go sooner if your child develops teeth earlier.
5. Treats should be treats. Dentists often wince when they hear about children eating lots of sticky foods and candy. “It sticks in the grooves of the teeth,” says Dr. Brill. “Even brushing and rinsing may not remove all the sticky goo from the grooves.” Try to reserve those sticky treats for special occasions.
6. Don’t let your child drink sugary drinks frequently. Think of all that sugary liquid bathing your child’s teeth and gums, over and over. “Sipping on a soda with sugar all day can be seriously cavity-causing,” says Dr. Berg. “When it comes to cavities, it’s the frequency of sugar more than the quantity in total that can cause cavities.”
7. No drinks in bed. If your child stalls at bedtime by asking for a glass of water, you can give in. But don’t put your child to bed with a bottle or cup of milk or juice, unless you plan to brush their teeth before they nod off.
8. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Since diet does have a relationship to oral health, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends eating lots of fresh veggies, fruits and whole grains.
9. Sealants can be a good protective measure. Dentists can apply a material to your child’s molars to help ward off cavities. “It fills in those grooves where decay is so prevalent, where it’s so easy to occur,” says Dr. Brill.
10. Floss! As soon as your child has teeth that touch each other, they can get food and bacteria stuck in between them—and floss is the best way to get it out. You can buy pre-strung flossing sticks to make the flossing process easier.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking these simple steps can create life-long good dental hygiene habits and ensure a pleasant visit to the dentist.