Tips for Taking Care of Toddler TeethFebruary is National Children’s Dental Health Month.  The ADA Website is full of information for taking care of your kids’ teeth – from what to do about various dental injuries, to the importance of mouth guards, to forming good habits when it comes to snacking.  There are also tons of great, free printouts for you and your kids to color, crossword puzzles to complete, etc.

Today we’re talking about taking care of toddler teeth.  Many people assume that baby teeth – not being the important, permanent teeth – don’t require as much care or attention as permanent teeth do.  But, baby teeth DO matter!  They help kids chew food properly, learn to speak more quickly and clearly, and act as a placeholder in the jaw for the permanent teeth growing underneath the surface.  Most importantly, you’re setting the stage for a lifetime of good oral health by establishing a strong, consistent oral hygiene routine early.

So how can you care for those new little teeth?

1. Visit the Dentist Early

Early preventative care is key.  It’s recommended that kids start seeing the dentist as early as one year old, though statistics show that most kids don’t see the dentist for the first time until they’re closer to two or three.  The point is, find a dentist you like (be sure to check back soon for our guide to Charlotte-area pediatric dentists!) and visit regularly for check-ups and cleanings.  The sooner you start, the better.

2. Brush, Brush, Brush

Get your little one used to a toothbrush early to avoid struggles with it later.  There’s fluoride-free training toothpaste available that you can use when your child is young and doesn’t understand how to spit.  Once they turn two, they should start brushing with a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste twice a day.  No teeth?  No problem!  Use a gauze to rub the gums.  Toothbrushes that fit on your finger are also a great way to start brushing baby teeth early (just beware: your finger may become their favorite chew toy!)

3. No Bottles in Bed

Never put your toddler to sleep with a bottle of juice, formula or milk in their crib.  Sugary liquids cling to the teeth while they sleep, which encourages decay.  If there has to be a drink in bed (if there does, believe me, I hear you.  It’s a requirement in our house), then make it water.

4. Skip Juice

Juice is a funny thing.  Kids love it and those handy boxes and straws make it so great to drink on the go.  But, in reality it’s mostly just a lot of sugar and water, and offers no nutritional benefits over whole pieces of fruit.  Juice is linked to tooth decay and obesity, and really shouldn’t be a part of your child’s regular diet.  If your child really loves it, limit it to 4 ounces a day of 100% juice as a treat (and dilute it with water to reduce the sugar overload).  Water is really the best beverage choice for young kids.

5. Ditch the Pacifier, Thumb, Fingers, etc.

As a mom whose two-year-old loved his pacifier, this one can be hard to swallow.  But, the ADA recommends that these habits be ended between two and four years of age in order to reduce the chances of any long-term dental issues, like changing the alignment of the teeth or even permanently changing the roof of the mouth.  Luckily, most kids outgrow these habits naturally by the time they’re three or four.

6. Watch out for Sippy Cups

The ADA recommends that training cups with no-spill valves only be used temporarily, and recommend cups with spouts instead.  The big issue with the no-spill cups is that because they only emit a tiny amount of liquid at each “suck,” kids aren’t learning how to sip, and whatever they’re drinking ends up being swilled around in their mouths for longer.

The real issue with sippy cups though is what’s inside of them.  Don’t let your child constantly be drinking sugary liquids (which includes milk and juice).  Offer those only at mealtimes to limit the amount of sugar left behind on the teeth (saliva production increases during meals and helps to neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth).  If they want to have a drink during non-meal times, make it water.  Also, don’t let a newly walking toddler run around drinking from a cup.  Babies are often very unsteady at this age and can hurt themselves by falling onto their cups.

7. Keep Sugary Snacks to a Minimum

This sounds rather obvious, but sugar is so pervasive – limit the amount of sweets your child eats (like cookies and cakes), but be aware there’s a lot of sugar in a lot of “normal” foods too.  Dried food – particularly raisins – have high levels of sugar, as do many different types of flavored yogurt.  Keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar is equal to roughly 1 teaspoon when you read ingredient labels.  Pay attention to “natural sweeteners,” like strawberry puree or concentrate, which is just processed sugar under another name.  Avoid processed foods when you can.  Pre-packaged oatmeal contains a lot of sugar, but if you prepare oatmeal on the stove yourself, you can limit the amount of sugar used.  Be diligent about reading labels when serving treats to your kids.

8. Don’t Pass Germs

Tooth decay can be transmitted through saliva, and babies are especially susceptible given that their immune systems are so fragile and new.  Don’t share silverware and don’t ever attempt to clean a dropped pacifier by “rinsing” it in your mouth first.

9. Be a Model of Good Dental Health

Make sure your kids see YOU taking care of your teeth too.  Let them watch as you brush and floss, and take them along to your dentist visits too.  It’s hard to convince your kids to do things you won’t do yourself!

10. Make it Fun

There are literally tons of kids books out there about good dental habits and visits to the dentist.  “Little Critter’s Just Going to the Dentist,” “The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist,” and “The Tooth Book” are just a few.  Read these with your kids and let them see that a trip to the dentist isn’t scary.  Lots of parents recommend electric spinning toothbrushes for kids too – they see it as a fun way to brush their teeth.  Make it an enjoyable habit, not something to be dreaded and feared!

What tips do you have for taking care of those baby teeth?