Don't overlook important oral health habits for young children

Posted on February 10, 2015 in Children’s Oral Health

oral health habits for kids - delta dental of illinoisBy Dr. Katina Spadoni
Dental Director for Delta Dental of Illinois

February is Children's Dental Health Month, a great time to remember that a child's oral health is set in motion from a very young age. Tooth decay can develop any time after the first tooth comes in, starting around 6 months old, and good oral health habits should begin even earlier.

Only 30 percent of Illinois parents give their kids an “A” grade for oral health, according to a new survey of children's dental health by Delta Dental of Illinois.1 In fact, nearly nine of 10 parents (85 percent) say their children's oral health isn't as good as it could be.

A majority of Illinois parents (54 percent) think that oral care habits – more than genetics or what their kids eat – are responsible for their children's oral health. Yet, 24 percent of children don't brush twice daily, and 66 percent of children don't floss daily.

The Delta Dental of Illinois survey indicates that these poor habits start early, and parents may be contributing to their children's tooth decay and long-term oral health problems long before they can brush or floss on their own.

Children's baby teeth need to be brushed
As soon as a child's first tooth comes in, it should be brushed. But 64 percent of Illinois parents didn't begin brushing for their children at this time. Instead, they waited until there were a few or even a full set of teeth.

The first tooth – and all subsequent teeth – should be brushed gently with a soft, child-sized toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste twice a day until age 2. A small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be used from ages 2 to 6. Even before children get the first tooth, the mouth and gums should be wiped with a soft, damp cloth or infant toothbrush after feedings.

Poorly established brushing habits have helped contribute to so many kids having cavities. These habits set a foundation for children as they get older. It's important for parents to get their children in a routine as soon as the first tooth appears, so they don't question the habit later on.

Children's bottles and sippy cups at naptime and bedtime should be filled with water
Many parents don't know that children shouldn't be put to bed with a bottle or sippy cup, unless it contains water. Alarmingly, 46 percent of Illinois parents with children under age 3 put their child down for a nap or bedtime with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk or juice at least once a week or more.

Fruit juice, and even plain milk, can be harmful to young kids' oral health. Both beverages have many grams of sugar that, when left to bathe on teeth at naptime or overnight, can result in tooth decay.

Parents should only fill bottles or sippy cups with water, except at meal and snack times. And anytime children are given sugary beverages or snacks, teeth should be either rinsed with water or brushed afterward.

Some other important habits for healthy smiles:
• Once any two teeth are touching, parents should floss, or help the child floss, once a day.
• Children should visit the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth – and no later than the first birthday.
• Parents should eliminate saliva-transferring behaviors – such as sharing utensils and toothbrushes and cleaning a pacifier with their mouths – which are all activities that can pass harmful bacteria to a child.

1 Kelton, a leading global insights firm, conducted the 2015 Delta Dental of Illinois Children's Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted statewide via email with 231 parents of children ages 12 and under. For results based on the total sample of Illinois adults, the margin of error is ±6.5 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.