by Dr. Abbie Walker
Oral health is just one of many factors in maintaining the overall health of the body. When it comes to caring for a child’s oral health, there are ways to be involved to help them prevent disease. The foundation of oral health starts with establishing a dental home for the child. A dental home is the office to visit for comprehensive dental care, including check-ups, preventive services (nutrition and oral hygiene education, sealants), restorations (fillings, crowns) and the management of trauma. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends establishing a dental home by the child’s first birthday. Disease prevention is paramount in oral health, thus routine dental visits every six months are recommended for children (and adults).
When caring for a child’s oral health at home, it is important to play an active role in their diet and hygiene habits. Children need help with brushing and flossing until at least 8 years of age. Many young children dislike brushing or prefer to do it independently, but it is critical to help them daily with brushing and flossing to decrease cavities and gingivitis. Twice daily brushing and once-daily flossing is recommended. For children under 3 years old, the amount of toothpaste placed on a toothbrush should be the size of a grain of rice. Ages 3 and up should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Maintaining the health of the baby teeth is just as important as maintaining permanent teeth. Although the baby teeth eventually fall out, they are important in function, esthetics and the growth and development of the jaw bones. If a baby tooth becomes infected, there is a risk of the infection damaging the permanent teeth and spreading elsewhere in the body.
The risk of tooth decay increases with an increase in the frequency of snacking and an increase in the consumption of added-sugar, acidic and carbohydrate-rich foods. Try to minimize snacking, or opt for a mouth healthy snack such as vegetables, cheese, or nuts. Healthy drinks are just as important as healthy snacks. Minimize the consumption of sugary and acidic drinks like juice, pop, and sport drinks. Even sugar-free drinks can be acidic, so encourage the child to stay hydrated with water and save those other drinks for special occasions like a birthday party or holiday.
For more information, visit the American Dental Association at MouthHealthy.org/en/nutrition.
Dr. Abbie Walker, DDS, MS, is a pediatric dentist at Ann Arbor Smiles Pediatric Dentistry. Ann Arbor Smiles Dental Group is located at 2365 S. Huron Pkwy., in Ann Arbor.