That first wiggly tooth indicates a new childhood milestone — loss of the first “baby” tooth. While this is often a time for cute photos and a visit from the tooth fairy, it should also be an opportunity to reinforce the importance of good oral care with children so that their new permanent teeth stay healthy and last a lifetime.
Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases among children in the U.S., but it is also preventable. This finding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics) highlights just how important it is to help kids take good care of their teeth.
“The sooner the better when it comes to helping children understand the importance of taking care of their permanent (‘adult’) teeth. As children grow, encourage them to take more responsibility for their oral hygiene, but continue to supervise them until you’re comfortable with their routines,” says Dr. Michael Hahn, national dental director for Cigna.
Dr. Hahn recommends the following tips for a healthy mouth.
• Attack plaque: Let your child know that “plaque” leads to tooth decay — it’s like your tooth “getting sick.” Plaque has bacteria and acids that can hurt a tooth’s outer enamel and cause tiny holes that lead to cavities.
Brush for two minutes, twice a day. Help your child understand what two minutes actually “feels” like by playing a favorite song for that length of time, or use a kitchen timer, smartphone alarm, hourglass of sand or stopwatch.
• Floss: Daily flossing is important too. Since flossing may be tricky for small hands, help them until about age 10.
• Snack smart: Healthy teeth rely on smarter snacks. Fruits and vegetables can help reduce plaque buildup. On the other hand, sugary and sticky foods can remain on teeth for hours, providing time for bacteria and acids to begin their damage. If your children drink soda, encourage the use of a straw so less of the liquid coats their teeth.
• Visit the dentist: Regular dental checkups are essential. These visits can detect problems when they are still small and are less complex to treat. Getting used to seeing the dentist in childhood will help keep this important practice going as an adult.
• Reward positive behavior: Praise your child for doing a good job. You know your child best — offer that “something special” as incentive, particularly when the dentist gives a great report.
“It’s easier to teach a younger child good habits, than to break an older child of poor ones. Encourage your kids to take good care of their teeth. You’ll put them on track for strong, healthy teeth that will last a lifetime,” says Dr. Hahn.
For additional dental tips, visit cigna.com/dental-resources.
For detailed questions or concerns about a child’s oral health, it is important to consult a dentist.