The benefits of a healthy smile stretch beyond the purely cosmetic. Tooth decay can lead to trouble speaking, learning and eating, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Teach your child from a young age the importance of dental health and show him how to care for his teeth by brushing and flossing at least twice a day. Help your child brush his teeth until he’s able to do it successfully on his own.
Explain to your child what plaque, tartar and cavities are. Plaque is a film that coats the teeth, according to the American Dental Association. The bacteria on plaque can lead to cavities, or holes in the teeth that can be painful and weaken the tooth. If plaque stays on the tooth, it can harden into tartar, which is hard to remove.
Brush your child’s teeth for her until she’s about 7 or 8. Explain to her that brushing gets rid of the plaque, which makes it more difficult for her to get cavities. Have her place her hand on the toothbrush as you brush so that she can feel what brushing is like. Brush the front and undersides of her teeth holding the brush at a 45-degree angle and using short, back-and-forth strokes. Brush the back of the teeth holding the toothbrush vertically and using up-and-down strokes.
Show her how to brush her tongue by swiping the toothbrush across the surface. Explain that bacteria, or germs, on the tongue can hurt her teeth as well.
Go into the details on flossing. Your child should be able to floss on her own around the age of 8, but before that, she’ll need your help. Explain that floss helps remove even more plaque from the teeth, further reducing her chance of cavities. Show her how to floss by wrapping the ends of an 18-inch strand around your fingers and sliding it between two teeth. Work the floss up and down on the side of a tooth, the repeat on the other side. Be very gentle and don’t work the floss too deep into the gum.
Take your child to the dentist twice a year from around her first birthday. Choose a dentist who is friendly and deals with young patients well. When your child is old enough to worry about a visit to the dentist’s office, tell her that the dentist is a friend who will help keep her teeth healthy and that she doesn’t have anything to fear. Ask the dentist to explain to your child what he is doing and how it will help her. Many children’s dentists offer stickers or small toys to help children feel comfortable.