Your child's oral health is just as important as his or her physical health. But how soon do you take your child to the dentist and how can parents take care of those important baby teeth.
Dr. Laurel Linetsky visited with Balance Television host Dr. Marla Shapiro to offer practical tips on promoting proper dental health at home.
"It (visiting the dentist) should actually be very fun," Linetsky said. "We have TVs in the operatories, they get a special ride in the chair and there's prizes. They usually have a great time. I think the fear is passed on from previous generations. It shouldn't be scary at all anymore."
Your child's first dental visit
So when should you take your child in for the first time?
Linetsky says that the first actual visit should be at age three, when all the primary teeth are in the mouth and the child is at the earliest age where he or she will cooperate and let the dentist have a proper look.
"Most dental associations however, recommend that when the first tooth erupts - which is age six to seven months - that they be seen by a dentist," she said. "It's not necessarily with them in the chair, it's just so we can take a look to see what's going on and give parents information on what they can be doing at that point to take care of their kids' teeth."
After the first tooth erupts, Linetsky suggests using a wet washcloth and just wiping off the teeth. Once the molars come in - about age two to three - then you can start using a toothbrush. The toothbrush can just be wet, she added, saying it doesn't necessarily have to have toothpaste on it.
Choosing the right toothpaste
If your child wants to brush her own teeth, let her. Just be sure to get in their afterward to do it again yourself.
As far as toothpaste goes, Linetsky recommends children use non-fluoridated toothpaste up until approximately age five or six.
"When you know that your child can consistently spit out into the sink, then you're okay to use a fluoridated toothpaste," she said. "You don't want them to swallow it, it's too much toothpaste they swallow every single day. There's a real balance between what's enough fluoride and what's too much fluoride."
Ideally, she said, children should be drinking fluoridated water because that's good for teeth development until the age of 18.
Linetsky says that they're seeing a lot more decay in kids' mouths because parents are giving their children bottled water where the fluoride has been removed. She suggests that if parents want their kids to drink bottled water, that's fine.
"But if you can cook at home with tap water, make your soups and macaroni...with tap water, that's a sufficient amount of fluoride that your kids will be getting."
Flossing is very important for healthy teeth and Linetsky suggests tasty flavoured flosses for those children who don't like doing it. She did note that children with teeth that are spaced apart don't need to floss until the teeth are tightly together.
Go for sugar free gum
As for toothbrushes, there are tons of varying types and designs from manual to electric. Linetsky endorses whatever type it takes to get your child to brush longer and properly.
Sugar-free gum is a great tool as well, Linetsky said, since kids usually don't brush three times a day.
"What gum does is it stimulates saliva," she said. "We recommend to our parents to, if you can, give gum to your kids after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner - it stimulates the saliva and washes off the teeth."
It's not a replacement for a toothbrush but it's a good add-on tool. Cheese is also a great snack that doesn't cause decay, but actually helps prevent it. Both are handy if, for example, your child is going to fall asleep in the car before you get home or some other reason prevents them from getting a chance to brush.
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