Give your kids something to smile about

As a parent, you guide your child's health choices. Oral health is connected to overall health, so we encourage you to set a good example. Establishing healthy dental habits doesn't just benefit your child's teeth and gums. A child's consumption of sugar may result in early childhood cavities - and it also may lead to obesity in later childhood.

Here are some simple ways you can help your children keep their teeth and gums healthy, and develop healthy habits for life, beginning in their infancy:

  • From the first days of your children's lives, get into the habit of cleaning their gums - first with water on a cloth, or with a soft infant toothbrush.
  • As soon as the first tooth pops through, brush your child's teeth at least twice a day. You can use fluoridated toothpaste from the start: for children age 2 and younger, use only a "smear," and for children older than 2, use a pea-size amount. Make sure children spit out - and don't swallow - the paste leftover from brushing.
  • Help younger children brush their teeth - children don't develop the dexterity to brush their own teeth effectively until around age 8. If they want to be independent, share the job - demonstrate by brushing their teeth for them, and then let them have a turn.
  • After your children have brushed their teeth, provide only water to drink, and nothing else to eat, for the night.
  • Don't let your infant or toddler go to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup. If your child must go to sleep with a bottle, fill it only with water.
  • Don't let your child fall asleep at your breast - especially after he gets his first tooth.
  • Talk to your health care provider about fluoride supplements for your children.
  • Schedule your child's first dental appointment by their first birthday.
  • Serve milk or juice only as part of a meal; between meals, the only beverage for children older than age 1 should be water.

Damage control

Did you know that every time your child takes a sip of a beverage or a bite of food with any sugar in it, his mouth launches a 20-minute acid attack? This causes irreversible damage to the tooth structure. To help lessen this damage, try to establish set snack times, rather than letting kids graze throughout the day - especially with younger children, as you can more easily control the availability of food. Let children consume, in one sitting, as much of the snack as they want, and then take away the food until the next snack or meal time. Think about the type of snack you offer: instead of sweet treats, opt for healthier choices such as fruit, cut-up vegetables or cheese.