Thoughtful Parenting: Teeth matter
The young cousins stood on the porch brushing their teeth as the sun was setting behind the hills. There was no complaining. This was part of the adventure of visiting their grandparents in a farmhouse without indoor plumbing. The grandparents knew the children would remember brushing teeth is important even when they’re away from home.
Teeth matter in keeping a child’s whole body healthy. Strong teeth allow a child to chew well and enjoy eating. Healthy teeth and gums support their immune system and help them bounce back from illness and injuries.
Teeth also matter in learning. Teeth are needed for clear speech and confidence.
Tips for parents and caregivers:
• During your pregnancy, get a dental check-up and eat healthy. Give up soft drinks!
• After your baby is born, wipe baby’s gums with a clean, soft cloth after each feeding.
• After your baby’s teeth come in, wipe their teeth after each feeding with a soft cloth. Brush their teeth in the morning and at bedtime with a small smear of toothpaste on a soft bristled toothbrush and wipe off until child is old enough to spit out the toothpaste. Don’t let your baby sleep with a bottle containing anything other than water. Milk and other liquids will pool around the teeth; decay will grow quickly with the constant supply of sugar.
• By age 1, schedule your child’s first dental check-up. Teach your child to drink from a cup instead of a bottle.
• By age 3, a total of 20 baby teeth finish coming in. Avoid sharing a spoon with child to prevent spreading bacteria that cause decay.
Brushing strategies during the preschool years:
• My turn, your turn: Preschoolers are still developing the muscles and skills they need to brush on their own. Gently show your child how to brush the front, back, inside and outside of his teeth. Then let him take the lead. Have fun as you remind him to rinse and spit out the toothpaste.
• Brush and groove: Brush for about two minutes. Playing children’s music or singing helps the time to pass easily.
• Look for toothbrushes with small heads and soft bristles.
• Let your child choose the color.
• Rinse toothbrush and stand it up to air dry.
• Change toothbrushes at least every three months.
• If child has been sick, change toothbrush right away.
• Help child learn to use a small amount of toothpaste — just a smear for children younger than 2; a pea-size for children ages 2 to 5.
Teeth friends: Let your child know the dentist and hygienist are friends of their teeth. Talk with your child before you go to the dental check-up: sitting in the big chair, having pictures taken of their teeth, the hygienist’s and dentist’s mask and gloves, the light and small mirror used for checking and counting their teeth, and the buzzing sound when the hygienist cleans their teeth.
Beth Watson RN, BSN, is a public health nurse at Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. This article includes information from American Dental Association, National Maternal & Child Oral Health Resource Center, Cavity Free at Three, Sesame Street Healthy Teeth Healthy Me and Head Start National Center on Health.
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