One of the best things parents and caregivers can do for their children is to instill healthy dental habits early. Here are tips for ensuring your child has healthy teeth for a lifetime.
Begin early - Your child’s first dental visit should occur no later than six months after the first tooth appears or by your child’s first birthday. It’s important to introduce your child to the dentist before a problem occurs, so the child doesn’t associate pain or trauma with the dentist. At your child’s first appointment, your dentist can answer any questions you may have, highlight proper cleaning techniques, and recommend oral care products. Your child’s earliest dental visits help set the stage for good oral health.
Start healthy habits at home - Children like to mirror the habits of their parents and siblings. Ensure oral hygiene is part of the household routine, and make it fun! Brush teeth as a family, and show kids how much you enjoy it. Create excitement by letting your child choose a favorite toothbrush. When kids think oral hygiene is enjoyable and not a chore, they’ll look forward to brushing their teeth.
Utilize books and apps - There are several fun and upbeat books about healthy dental habits, from beloved classics like the Berenstain Bears and Curious George to more recent stories like “Brush, Brush, Brush!” and “Brush Your Teeth, Please.” If your child plays with your smartphone or tablet, let her try out interactive and educational apps like “Chomper Chums” and “My Teeth.”
Set the tone - Kids are intuitive and can pick up energy from parents. Sometimes a parent might have a phobia or apprehension about the dentist. It’s important not to share these with children. Stay upbeat and positive when describing teeth cleaning and dental visits. For young children, we also recommend using simple, kid-friendly language like “cavity bugs” to explain the importance of teeth cleaning in a fun, approachable way.
Build trust - For children who are nervous about visiting the dentist, dental professionals can help rebuild trust. Ahead of the dental visit, share concerns with dental staff. Many practices offer “acclimation” appointments, which give children the opportunity to see the office in a stress-free environment. Kids can see the dentist chair while staff demonstrate a dental cleaning on a stuffed animal. During the acclimation appointment, kids get a chance to practice and play and learn there’s nothing scary about visiting the dentist.
Try virtual introductions - Most dental offices have images on their websites and Facebook pages. Share these pictures with children. This can be especially helpful for children with special needs, giving them a chance to familiarize themselves with the space ahead of the visit. For example, our office offers a virtual tour, so children can explore the office from a computer or smartphone.
Consider medical options - Sometimes when a child has a lot of dental work or needs, your dental professional may recommend anesthesia or sedation. Discuss options with your dentist to find the best solution for your child. After dental issues are resolved, this can be an opportunity to start from a “clean slate” and build good habits and visits moving forward.
For more information and tips, visit the American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy website at www.mouthhealthy.org.
Dr. Jonathan L. Wong and Dr. Kari Cwiak are co-founders of Norfolk’s Coastal Pediatric Dental & Anesthesia, high-quality dentistry dedicated to complete and excellent pediatric care and outpatient anesthesia. Both are members of the Virginia Dental Association.