Heathy teeth make for a beautiful smile – one of the first things that we notice about a person. But, more importantly, healthy teeth also means not having to deal with the nightmare of toothaches, cavities, swollen gums, and loose teeth. To top it off, the effects of poor dental health are not limited to your mouth – people with better oral health typically have fewer chronic illnesses such as heart disease.1 If you want to give your child a headstart when it comes to dental health and set them up for life, we have some simple and effective pointers to help you.
1. Take Care Of Oral Hygiene From Birth
Don’t wait for your baby’s teeth to appear before you start thinking of their oral hygiene. Begin cleaning their mouth when they are a few days old. Start by cleaning your child’s gums and tongue with a damp gauze every time you feed them and before you put them to bed.2
2. Brush For 2 Whole Minutes Twice A Day
If your child is old enough to gargle and spit, you can start them off on oil pulling. It helps remove debris and bacteria, fights problems like tooth decay and gingivitis, and supposedly detoxes the whole body.3 Use sesame or coconut oil and teach them to swish the oil and pull it between the teeth before spitting it out. They can start with a half a minute and work their way up to 5 minutes or more eventually.
Brushing is one of the most important aspects of dental care. Here are a few pointers that you need to keep in mind:
- Start brushing teeth as soon as your child’s teeth are in. Brush twice a day – after having breakfast and before going to bed – for 2 minutes.
- Use circular motions to brush and make sure you clean the gums and tongue as well. Pay attention to the molars in the back – they are most likely to get cavities.
- Make brushing fun. Sing a 2-minute song or find some other fun way to keep your child brushing for the full 2 minutes.
- A soft-bristled toothbrush will work best for toddlers as well as children. Fluoride toothpastes are great at protecting tooth enamel but don’t use them till your child is over the age of 2. This is because babies younger than that may swallow the toothpaste and ingest excessive amounts of fluoride. Herbal toothpastes which contain beneficial plant extracts like neem which fights off oral pathogens are also a good option.4 Ayurveda also recommends the use of neem chewing sticks after every meal and in the morning. This helps fight bacteria and plaque formation.5
- For children younger than 3, a rice grain-sized blob of toothpaste is sufficient. For older children use a pea-sized blob. And remember, your child’s toothbrush needs to be changed every 3 or 4 months.
- Your child may not be able to brush properly by themselves till they are around 7 or 8 years old. So while you can let them practice, make sure you check up on them and tackle any spots they might have missed.6 7
3. Floss Once A Day
As soon as your baby gets two teeth next to each other, introduce flossing so that you can remove bits of food that get stuck in between teeth. If you find using a waxed thread cumbersome, try flossing with a floss stick.
4. Stop Using Pacifiers When Your Child Turns One
Your baby might find a pacifier soothing but try not to use them after they are one. It may encourage an open bite. Your baby’s teeth may move to accommodate the pacifier and may not be properly aligned.8
5. Don’t Put Your Child To Bed With A Bottle Of Milk Or Juice
Drinks and foods with sugar are broken down by bacteria present in the mouth, producing acid which eats away at the tooth’s enamel and causes cavities during this process. The longer your child’s teeth are in touch with sugary drinks like milk or juice, the greater the chances of getting a cavity. So don’t put your child to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. This can lead to discolored pitted front teeth in babies – a condition known as bottle mouth. In fact, experts suggest that babies should be taught to drink from a cup at around the age of 6 months and stop using a bottle altogether around 12 to 14 months of age.9 10
6. Limit Snacking – Especially On The Sugary, Acidic, And Sticky Stuff
Once your child is old enough to chew safely and without choking (say, over 6 years), give them a pinch of fennel seeds, a clove, or a cardamom pod after food to help disinfect and cleanse the teeth. They may also be fascinated enough to give this a go regularly!
Frequent snacking means that your teeth come in contact with foods that get broken down into enamel-destroying acid more frequently. Foods like fruit juice, which is high in sugar, are better had with a meal as far as your teeth are concerned. Why, you ask? The act of chewing food during a meal produces saliva which can help wash away starchy and sugary foods. Sticky foods such as raisins, dates, or potato chips are harder to wash away and can up your risk of cavities. Meanwhile, some fizzy drinks can be as acidic as gastric acid! This can dissolve tooth enamel. Crunchy, watery vegetables like cucumbers make a much better snack.11 12
7. Give Your Child A Nutritious Diet That Supports Oral Health
A healthy, balanced diet is necessary for healthy teeth and gums as much as the rest of your child’s body. Nutrients that are particularly important for maintaining dental health include:
- Calcium is vital to build teeth and bones. This important nutrient also lowers your risk of gum disease. Milk and other dairy products, beans and legumes, green leafy veggies, sardines, and soy milk are good sources.
- Phosphorus helps calcium fortify and strengthen teeth and bones. A child’s teeth need it for the hard structure. Almonds and other nuts, cereals, poultry, eggs, fish, citrus fruits, grapes are good sources.
- Vitamin D helps regulate phosphorus and calcium in the body and therefore is required for healthy teeth. It can be found in red meat, liver, egg yolks, and fish such as salmon and sardines. Your body also creates vitamin D using sunlight.
- Vitamin C is important for keeping your gums healthy and a deficiency in this nutrient can lead to bleeding and swollen gums. Include citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit as well as vegetables like red pepper, broccoli, and cauliflower to get vitamin C.
- Beta-carotene plays a role in making tooth enamel and in bone growth. Think sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, carrots, leafy greens like spinach to get enough of this nutrient.13 14 15 16
8. Set A Date With The Dentist!
Following healthy dental habits consistently can go a long way toward maintaining oral health. Make sure you develop a healthy routine for your child so that it sticks with them when they grow up. And make sure that regular visits to the dentist are on that schedule. Experts suggest that you should start taking your child to the dentist by the time they are one year. A dentist will not only check for and sort out any teeth and gum problems but also assess if your child’s teeth are developing properly as they grow.
|↑1||Heart Disease, Stroke & Oral Health. Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.|
|↑2||Brushing Your Child’s Teeth.
|↑3, ↑5||Pravin, M., VedikaAde, D. P., & Ranajan, M. (2015). A Critical Analysis of Dentation and Dental Care in Ayurveda. J Homeop Ayurv Med 3: 175.|
|↑4||Singh, Abhinav, and Bharathi Purohit. “Tooth brushing, oil pulling and tissue regeneration: A review of holistic approaches to oral health.” Journal of Ayurveda and integrative medicine 2, no. 2 (2011): 64.|
|↑6, ↑12||About Kids’ Teeth. The Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives.|
|↑7||Let the Brushing Games Begin. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑8||Looking after your baby’s teeth.
|↑9||Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy.
|↑10||Tooth decay – early childhood. National Health Institute.|
|↑11||How to keep children’s teeth safe: A Q&A with the British Dental Association.
|↑13||What to Feed Your Smile: Oral Health and Nutrition. Nebraska Office of Oral Health.|
|↑14||Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy. Nemours Foundation.|
|↑15||Fluoride in diet. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16||Calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus. Dental Health Services Victoria.|