February may be the designated dental health month for children, but it important to address your child’s dental health each and every day. Dental care begins at birth and lasts throughout a person’s life. It is our role as caregivers and parents to insure healthy habits are formed early on to keep one’s teeth as long as possible.
According to the American Dental Association, Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. Their first teeth also help make sure their adult teeth come in correctly. It’s important to start infants off with good oral care to help protect their teeth for decades to come.
Children will get a set of 20 primary teeth or “baby teeth” and they are already present in their jaws at birth. That’s why it is important to start dental care before teeth appear. As a former preschool teacher, I am familiar with a classroom full of children with silver smiles resulting from dental surgery because of Baby Bottle Tooth decay. This decay is caused by exposing baby’s gums to sugary drinks over a prolonged time, such as putting the baby to bed with a bottle, or using the bottle as a pacifier. This can be prevented by not offering a bottle in bed, and when the child is finished with a bottle feeding, you can wipe the gums with a clean washcloth. When the first teeth do appear, parents can brush them with a child size toothbrush and a tiny ‘grain of rice” amount of tooth paste. It is also recommended that caregivers do not share and eat from the same spoons as infants and toddlers as the bacteria from the adult’s mouth can be passed on to the child.
Many people wander why baby teeth matter if they are just going to fall out eventually anyway.
This public service announcement highlights the reasons why.
Babies begin teething around 6-12 months. Parents may notice baby is fussy, irritable, has trouble sleeping and drools more than usual. Parents can offer a soft teething toy or rub gums with a clean cloth.
According to the American Dental Association
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that parents and caregivers not use benzocaine products for children younger than 2, except under the advice and supervision of a health care professional. Benzocaine is an over-the-counter anesthetic, which the FDA notes are usually under the product names Anbesol, Hurricaine, Orajel, Baby Orajel and Orabase. Benzocaine has been associated with a rare but serious—and sometimes fatal—condition called methemoglobinemia, a disorder in which the amount of oxygen carried through the blood stream is greatly reduced.
In September 2016, the FDA recommended that parents stop using homeopathic teething tablets and gels. “Homeopathic teething tablets and gels have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safety or efficacy,” the FDA says. “The agency is also not aware of any proven health benefit of the products, which are labeled to relieve teething symptoms in children.”
The FDA states these products are distributed by CVS, Hyland’s and possibly others, and are sold in retail stores and online.
“Consumers should seek medical care immediately if their child experiences seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation after using homeopathic teething tablets or gels,” the FDA states.
If you have any questions about how to relieve your child’s teething symptoms, talk to your dentist or pediatrician.
Nutrition for Dental Health
Kids need healthy teeth to chew food properly, to form the shape of the mouth to enable the sounds of speech, and for a healthy smile. Children’s nutrition is important for their growth and development from head to toe including their teeth. Most of the foods we eat have sugar in them, be it natural or added sugars. We want to encourage you to choose foods low in sugar and avoid sugary drinks. Look at the Nutrition labels of foods before making your decision, your child’s teeth will thank you.
Parents Role in Dental Care
For children under six, parents should do the brushing. At age 3-4 children will want to do the brushing themselves, but parents should do the final inspection. Make sure to reach the back of the mouth where molars will emerge. Children often miss places on their own.
Check out Mouth Healthy, for more information on Children’s Dental Health and The American Dental Association for information on Children’s Dental Health Month.
LYNN DEVRIES, EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
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