With more than a quarter of a million Instagram followers, Dr. Helen Mo, D.M.D., M.S. (@the.dentistmom), uses her platform to help fellow parents promote better oral healthcare among their kids.
What challenges do most parents face when trying to get their children to establish healthy oral health habits?
Being a parent is complex. There are a multitude of tasks to juggle, and it can be hard to find the proper resources to support the journey through parenthood.
When it comes to establishing healthy oral health habits, many parents may feel lost. Conflicting opinions make things confusing, and it is hard to pinpoint what information is evidence-based versus not. Sometimes, the hardest step for parents is to find the proper resources to make an informed decision on what they feel is best for their child and for their family.
Once parents are ready to start implementing an oral health routine, they may feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Toothbrushing is not something that children naturally enjoy. The face is such a personal area, and most children need time to find oral healthcare normal. Toothbrushing is an over-stimulating experience — the bristles that rub against the teeth/gums, the taste of toothpaste, and the sounds of the brush.
It takes frequent exposure to adapt to these new sensations in the mouth, even if it’s just a few seconds of brushing. The more consistent the introduction of the toothbrush, the more brushing is normalized as “routine.” Children quickly learn that toothbrushing is a part of taking care of their overall health. Avoidance will only increase their sensory aversion to the experience.
Are there any foods that you tend to avoid giving your daughter, Olivia?
The biggest limitation of Olivia’s diet is added sugar. We follow the recommendations provided by the American Heart Association: no added sugars for children under age 2 and a limit of less than 25 grams per day for children over 2.
We have boundaries for Olivia’s intake of things like fruit juice and other sweetened beverages (which are high in sugar), and sticky sweets and carbs (which can cause cavities). When picking foods, we try to be conscious of the Nutrition Facts label and pick low-sugar options.
How does a child’s dental care routine change as they age?
A little one’s oral health routine can begin before they even have teeth! The goal of early “brushing” is to reduce a baby’s oral hypersensitivity to set them up for a higher chance of success for toothbrushing in the future. The earlier the concept of “brushing” is introduced, the earlier they can adapt. A parent can use a finger brush, silicone toothbrush, warm damp washcloth/gauze, or even a clean finger to gently rub against the baby’s gums.
Once the first teeth appear and a child has started eating solids, a soft bristle toothbrush with a small smear of toothpaste is needed to adequately remove the plaque from the teeth for cavity prevention. Brushing should be done twice a day. Once the teeth touch side by side, flossing should also become a daily habit.
It is great to encourage brushing independence by letting a child be involved from Day 1. Many toddlers actually benefit from being involved to reduce any power struggles. However, brushing should always be done by an adult, especially right before bed. A thorough nighttime brushing is essential for preventing cavities. After brushing, ideally only water should be introduced. If the child is still feeding through the night, it is prudent to gently wipe the teeth after feeds.
Once a child grows older, they should be more and more involved in their brushing routine. They can use an electric toothbrush and/or a timer (set to two minutes). Until a child can tie their shoe, they do not have the manual dexterity to be completely independent brushers. A parent should still supervise brushing to check that all areas are adequately cleaned.
A child’s first dental visit should be completed by their first birthday. Routine dental visits should be done twice a year, and this should continue into adulthood.