Smile! Good dental habits can last a lifetime

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Good habits that start at an early age can ensure good habits continue throughout life. One such good habit is caring for our teeth by brushing and flossing. With February being National Children's Dental Health Month, this is an excellent time to educate your children on the importance of their teeth and demonstrate proper care and maintenance. As a result, your children have the potential to have happy, healthy smiles for their lifetime.

Because of most children's short attention span, parents find themselves in the difficult task of getting their child to brush their teeth. However, once your child realizes the role their teeth have in their lives such as smiling, eating, and talking, getting them to brush their teeth may not be such an overwhelming responsibility.

Start Early
Starting an oral care program early is the key to establishing good brushing habits. As a matter of fact, the American Dental Association recommends cleaning your baby's mouth a few days shortly after birth. With a wet washcloth, the baby's gums should be wiped after each meal. This accomplishes three things:
1. Removes plaque accumulation on the gums.
2. Plaque is a sticky substance containing mucus, food debris, and bacteria which contribute to tooth decay. Your child becomes accustomed to having a clean, plaque free mouth making them more inclined to maintain this feeling.
3. With your child habituated to you cleaning their mouth, they will be more receptive to your efforts in brushing their teeth. Additionally, this will make it easier for the dentist to examine and work comfortably in their mouths.

Baby's First Teeth
The baby's first teeth typically appear 6 months after birth. You may notice increased salivation, and the child may become irritable as these first teeth are erupting through the gum tissues. When teeth appear, a cotton swab works well in removing plaque daily.

If your child did not grow up with these early oral home care techniques, you may have a tougher time establishing good brushing habits at a later age. If by the age of two, your child has not brushed their teeth and you have not played an active role in their oral hygiene, then plaque has not been sufficiently removed, possibly initiating the decay process.

Brushing Your Child's Teeth
Despite the objection and challenge your child may give you, it is imperative that you brush their teeth. Because younger children typically do not have the manual dexterity to effectively brush their teeth, the responsibility lies on you, the parent, to ensure the adequate removal of plaque by assisting your children when brushing. On average, it's not
until the age of 8 that the child may develop the dexterity to brush on their own. As previously stated, unless plaque is removed, the decay process can begin. In contrast to adults, tooth decay occurs more readily in children. For this reason, it is critical for children to establish good oral hygiene.

Monitor Diet
During infancy, rather than leaving a bottle of milk with your child in the crib at night, leave a bottle of water. If the teeth are constantly bathed in milk, this may result in what's referred as Nursing Bottle Syndrome, a condition where most, if not all, of the teeth have decay. Fruit drinks, sports drinks, and soft drinks should be consumed in moderation. Consider following up these drinks with a drink of water to help neutralize the oral cavity.

If these drinks are consumed throughout the day, the acid levels remain constant further aiding the decay process. Carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, stick to teeth more readily. This is one reason why it's recommended to brush after every meal. Sweet foods obviously contain sugar which is what feeds the bacteria to proliferate and cause decay.

In regards to chewing gum, try sticking to sugar free gum. Some gum may even contain a sugar alternative. One such alternative is Xylitol which has been shown to help prevent tooth decay.

Make It Fun!
The key to getting your child to brush is to make it fun. Create ways to make brushing appear as an entertaining activity rather than a chore. One method to make it fun is to allow them to brush your teeth and then have them brush their own. Laugh and come up with silly names for the toothbrush and toothpaste. You can even demonstrate brushing techniques on a doll. Your enthusiasm for good oral hygiene will radiate onto your child.

Just a Little Bit
Select the proper size soft-bristle toothbrush for your child. Too large a brush may traumatize their tissues. Use only a pea-size amount of toothpaste to prevent excessive foaming and insure that your child spits out the toothpaste. Swallowing toothpaste may result in your child consuming too much fluoride and can cause a condition known as fluorosis characterized by spots on the teeth.

Good Habits to Last a Lifetime
As a parent, you are responsible for the overall healthcare of your child. By introducing good habits at an early age, you can guarantee that they will take the responsibility of caring for themselves at the proper time. Good oral hygiene will ultimately result in a healthy lifestyle!