Patient Care

Starting Them Early: Dental Hygiene Tips for the Parents

By Amanda Fouts, RDH, BSDH on March, 18 2021
Amanda Fouts, RDH, BSDH

I have over 10 years of experience in the dental field as a Dental Hygienist, Dental Hygiene Educator, Dental Assistant, and Sterile Tech. I am a Tennessee native who has developed strong roots in the dental community.

Dental hygiene is very important to your child’s overall health, and a good dental routine is key to starting dental habits that will last a lifetime. As parents, setting a good example for our children is our main goal, so why should dental habits be excluded?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that children see a dentist around their first birthday. Visiting the dentist early will reduce your child’s dental anxiety and encourage good habits at a young age.

Make healthy choices fun
As a dental hygienist, I love working with parents and children. Children light up my operatory! But not everyone knows the importance of dental health and how rampant dental cavities can cause so many complications for a child at an early age. So I like to make it fun and keep all my patients cavity-free!

One of my favorite memories growing up was the balloon animal I would get to choose at the end of my dental cleaning. The best part was that my hygienist made it just for me! Unfortunately, I’ve never worked in a dental office with balloons so I improvise to make their dental visit fun, as well. I always allow my pediatric patients to help choose their own toothbrush. They get so excited to choose their favorite color or character.

As parents, you can also help by letting your child choose their own toothpaste. Picking their favorite flavor will help when brushing their teeth isn’t as fun as playing their tablet. When your children are younger, even before their first dental visit, reading books or watching a dental video can help make their upcoming dental visit fun and exciting.

Using a timer to help children brush their teeth for 2 minutes is very helpful, and there are also apps, such as Magic Timer, that play a song by their favorite character during the entire 2 minutes. Rewarding children for good oral care is a plus. Even as a hygienist, I get excited when it’s time to visit the treasure chest! I use this as a form of positive reinforcement, hoping they will be excited to see me again next time.

Start fluoride education early
As a hygienist, I’m trained to educate and I love talking about fluoride with parents and children. Fluoride plays an important role in reducing cavities in baby teeth and adult teeth. It aids in strengthening your teeth to reduce the risk of dental decay, and some fluoride is retained from drinking water.

If your water does not contain fluoride, your child may need to take an oral fluoride supplement. Once your child starts going to the dentist, he or she will have the opportunity for a fluoride varnish treatment after having their teeth cleaned. Fluoride varnish is the best application and so easy for your child.

They again choose their flavor and the hygienist will paint it on their teeth. The stickiness of the varnish adheres to their teeth to make it last longer. Always follow the hygienist’s and dentist’s recommendations for when your child can eat and drink after a fluoride application.

Focus on brushing
It’s best to start the brushing process at an early age. Start by using a small piece of gauze to wipe the teeth as soon as they erupt. As more teeth erupt, parents can use a small extra soft baby toothbrush.

Parents should brush their child’s teeth beginning with water at least twice a day. This not only helps with the main goal to remove any plaque or bacteria, but starts good brushing habits. You also can add a small dab of “training” toothpaste. This is a toothpaste that does not contain fluoride and is safe for children to swallow since they’re just learning how to brush. As your child gets older and can avoid swallowing too much paste, you can switch to toothpaste with fluoride.

Again be sure to only start with a small amount because they are still just learning. When showing your child how to brush, make sure they get the fronts, backs, and in between, as well as their tongues for a whole-mouth clean. As a hygienist, we use a disclosing agent which is painted on children’s teeth (and even some adults) to show where they’re missing when brushing. This allows you to pay more attention to the hard-to-reach areas to remove plaque more efficiently.

Don’t be afraid to assist when necessary
I encourage assistance when brushing at all ages if they need it. I always say mom and dad are pros, let them help you. As your child gets older, usually 10 or so, they can start using a larger sized toothbrush.

By this time, they’ll have more adult teeth erupting and need to develop better brushing habits in order to reach the back teeth. It’s recommended to change out toothbrushes every 3 to 6 months, or when the bristles start to look worn.

In my 8 years of practice, I’ve discovered the average person brushes their teeth for 30 seconds to 1 minute at all ages. Parents should encourage their child to floss at least once a day. As a hygienist, I want to make flossing fun, so I usually let the child practice flossing with a mirror in my chair while I observe, and I give high-fives for a job well done!

I make sure to tell my patients and parents about how germs can form cavity bugs, and no one wants those living in their mouths. And don’t forget that bedtime brushing – this is when the germs can be the worst!

What’s your child eating?
Your child’s diet is the most important factor in keeping their teeth healthy. Children who eat a lot of sugary foods and drinks are at higher risk for cavities. As parents, we know sugar is high in soft drinks, but fruit juice can also have added sugar. Be careful when choosing fruit juice, and make sure kids brush their teeth between snacks.

Many parents limit chewing gum, but actually chewing gum can provide a few benefits. Gum can help balance acid that can cause tooth decay, and can also assist in washing away small particles of food. Be sure, however, you always provide sugar-free gum for your children.

Choosing a healthy diet can be the hardest challenge for any of us. I have a love for cookies before bed and in my profession I know better, but I brush extra and floss to get rid of those sugar bugs just like everyone else. As long as we have good dental hygiene habits, we can sneak a treat every once in a while.

We understand healthy dental habits do not form overnight, and if you have more than one child it may be hard to keep any sort of dental routine and stick to it. However, as a hygienist, each day I see how important maintaining these dental habits are for you and your child’s dental health, and I hope these tips will make your life easier and keep your home cavity free. Happy brushing all!

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