Dental Health Tips for Kids: Help Your Child's Smile Bloom

11/25/2017 08:35 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2017
Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey To Share.

We all want the same for our children: health, happiness, a lifetime of smiles.

And with a few simple oral health changes at home, we CAN give our kids a bit of each! Today, let’s start with just four of these easy-to-do changes for healthier smiles and healthier kids:

1. Use toothpaste containing fluoride.

It’s that simple. From the very first tooth, your child can use the same toothpaste as you. Fluoride taken in from foods, beverages, dietary supplements, and, yes, toothpaste, helps make the surface of the tooth, the enamel, stronger. The tooth can then better resist dental decay.

By brushing twice each day, two minutes each time, with a toothpaste containing fluoride, you can equip your children with strong and healthy teeth. Now, kids don’t need quite as much toothpaste as you, but here are some guidelines from the American Dental Association for just how much toothpaste to use:

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2. Visit the dentist by age 1 or by the time your child has his/her first tooth.

Yes, you heard that right. An early start to dental care can lead to a lifetime of healthy smiles. The first dental visit isn’t about taking xrays and doing procedures. Rather, it’s about prevention. By visiting the dentist, you and your family can learn how to best care for your child’s teeth. You can discuss recommended products for your child and better understand what is to come as your child’s baby teeth erupt. If something is off or your child has a thumb-sucking habit, the dentist is there to help you intervene before more issues arise. As more and more teeth emerge, your dentist can help strengthen and protect these precious teeth with fluoride and sealants. Most importantly, with early and frequent exposure to the dental office (and the prize box at the end of each visit!), your child might just learn to love the dentist, making visits down the road easier than ever imagined.

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3. Drink fluoridated tap water.

You may have already heard the advice to not put your child to bed with a bottle. You may have even heard the risks of using juice as a primary drink, the sugars in the juice contributing to poor dental health. But did you know the solution was as simple as tap water?

In communities with community water fluoridation, tap water has oral health benefits that can change your child’s smile for the better. Exposure to fluoride, strengthens the outer portion of the tooth, so that, when your child does have that sip of sugary juice, the tooth is better prepared for battle. The amount of fluoride in water is safe and regulated, and access is as simple as turning on your kitchen sink.

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And finally,

4. Help your child floss when two of his/her teeth touch.

An astute dental student at Harvard School of Dental Medicine recently explained flossing to me in a way that immediately clicked - no pun intended. And actually, this explanation is rather fitting for this holiday season:

If you were to put your hand in a bowl of mashed potatoes and pull it out, your hand would be covered in mashed potatoes! There would be goo on the front of your hand, the back of your hand, along your fingers and even in-between. With your tongue, with a washcloth, you would have no choice but to clean the debris off!

Let’s say you chose the washcloth option. You would first clean off the back of your hand, just like you brush the tongue side of your tooth. Then, you would clean the palm of your hand, equivalent to cleaning the cheek side of your tooth. And for purposes of this story, let’s pretend you don’t clean between your fingers. You just let the mashed potato sit there, and get crusty. The smell would get worse, the potatoes gathering dirt. Do I already have you running to a sink to clean between those fingers?!

Well, cleaning between your teeth is just the same. If we don’t floss when two teeth touch, the food and debris between them just gathers. It collects bacteria and more debris, and it eventually results in decay of the sides of your teeth. Sure, no one will see it when you go to shake a hand, but the concept is just the same.

So help your child get a head start, and teach him/her how to floss from the moment those two first teeth touch! For tips on how to floss, check out the Mouth Healthy site from the American Dental Association.

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Good oral health IS possible, and it is something we can give to each of our children!

By making simple changes at home, and making these changes as a family, we can inspire a generation of healthy smiles and healthy teeth. And as research shows, healthy teeth can lead to healthy lives. There is no better gift for our children this holiday season.

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And BONUS TIP: If you and your family live in the Boston area, bring your kids to Harvard Dental Center on February 3, 2018, for FREE dental care, crafts, education and more as Harvard School of Dental Medicine Gives Kids a Smile! Happy holidays from the Harvard Give Kids a Smile family! Call 617-432-1434 Option #1 to schedule your child's FREE dental visit.

Mirissa D. Price is a 2019 DMD Candidate at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and future pediatric dentist. She serves as a Scholar of Dental Education at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and a Give Kids a Smile Leadership Ambassador. Mirissa’s research and outreach interests include social-emotional development in youth; addressing barriers and access to pediatric dental care; interprofessional collaboration; and dental education. As a child, doctors told Mirissa that she would live in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, crippled by pain. Instead, Mirissa uses her medical experiences to inspire others, living each day with a passion to spread pain-free smiles through her dental work, writing, improv comedy performances, and nonprofit work with children.

You can stay up to date with Mirissa’s writing at mirissaprice.wordpress.com and follow @Mirissa_D_Price on Twitter or Facebook. You can even take home a few inspirations of your own, at Mirissa’s Etsy shop, A Smile Blooms.

© 2017 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.

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