The Bedtime Routine That Lasts a Lifetime
Is it a battle to get your children to brush their teeth? Does brushing happen only when you remember to tell them to do it? Do you ever skip it for the sake of some peace and quiet? If you are reading this, you probably have experienced at least one of these three scenarios. It is a part of the learning process parents and their children go through.
Regular toothbrushing requires guidance, discipline and a nightly commitment. Even keeping your own toothbrushing routine can sometimes be difficult without someone looking over your shoulder to give that gentle push you need. Luckily for your children, you can provide the discipline and commitment that helps create healthy nighttime habits.
Having an established routine makes it easier for children to predict and accept what is next, thus alleviating some of the added stress of the dreaded nighttime parenting challenges. In a child’s world, predictability equals stability.
First, instill proper oral health care in your very young children by having them brush their teeth before bed. They may not necessarily understand why they are doing it, but you are training your children that this is a “must do” operation, something that is a part of their evening routine. As they grow, they will learn to appreciate the toothbrushing routine as a healthy habit. This small nightly ritual will be a building block toward the lifetime goal of a healthy mouth.
Second, reward your child (and yourself) by reading a book together afterward. Whether your child is reading to you or vice versa, as a parent you are fostering a healthy cognitive activity that will pay dividends throughout your child’s school years. Plus, it reinforces the special bond between you and your child.
Finally, insist on a set bedtime. By doing so, you foster a normal sleep cycle, which helps ensure your child gets enough rest. Sleep is a vital component of a healthy mind and body; without it your child will be groggy and less willing to follow your directions.
Call us for an appointment or let us know at your next visit if you need help establishing a dental-friendly nighttime routine for your child.
Brush and Binky Biohazard: Sanitizing Toothbrushes and Pacifiers
Your child’s mouth is adorable, kissable, perfect … and filled with bacteria. The oral cavity acts like a hotel for hundreds of different kinds of microorganisms that can easily migrate onto toothbrushes and pacifiers. So what does this mean for your child’s health?
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the presence of these germs on toothbrushes doesn’t appear to be a health hazard for most of us―unless we’re immunocompromised. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to reduce the number of organisms on the things that go into your child’s mouth. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to do so. And if your child does have health issues that make him or her more susceptible to illness, it’s even more essential.
There are a number of products on the market that claim to sanitize toothbrushes. It’s important to note that cleaning and sanitizing are different than sterilizing. “Sterilizing” means a complete destruction of all bacteria, whereas “sanitizing” means reducing the bacteria by 99.9%. Using products that sanitize is fine but not necessary. Just follow some basic steps at home to reduce bacterial colonization on toothbrushes.
- Always rinse your toothbrush in warm water after use, removing all leftover toothpaste and food debris.
- If you use an ADA-approved sanitizing product, use one cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Store toothbrushes upright, allowing them to dry completely (moisture breeds bacteria). Don’t keep them in cases.
- Never share toothbrushes. People have different bacteria in their mouths, and introducing someone else’s bacteria into your system can make you sick.
- Do not try to sterilize toothbrushes in a microwave or dishwasher, which can damage the bristles.
- Replace toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months.
To keep pacifiers safe and clean, sterilize them by boiling them for 10 minutes before their first use. After that, you can simply wash them in warm soapy water once a day, using a cotton swab or bottle brush to get into those hard-to-reach crannies, and then dry them completely. If your baby has been sick, replace or resterilize the pacifier.
Remember that brushing, flossing and regular visits to our office are essential for optimizing your child’s oral health. If your child hasn’t been to our office recently, call and make an appointment.
When the Tooth Fairy Jumps the Gun: Preventing Premature Loss of Baby Teeth
If your child loses a baby tooth, it’s no big deal. After all, he or she is going to lose those teeth in a few years anyway, right? Wrong. Losing a baby tooth too soon can be a big deal. Baby teeth serve an important function, acting as placeholders for permanent teeth. When children lose baby teeth prematurely, their permanent teeth can come in crowded or overlapping, setting the stage for orthodontic issues down the line. Depending on where the missing tooth is located, it can also affect speech and even the way your child eats.
That is why it’s so important to try to reduce your child’s risk for premature loss of primary teeth. The main reasons children lose baby teeth before they should are accidents or trauma to the mouth (where teeth get knocked out or an injury destroys the viability of a tooth, necessitating its removal) and certain autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, that can affect the mouth and jaw. Severe decay can also lead to tooth loss. While some of these issues are beyond your control, there are some things you can do to help prevent tooth loss.
If your child has an illness that is known to affect the teeth, make sure we are aware so we can take proper precautions. To prevent tooth decay in an otherwise healthy child, brush and floss your toddler’s teeth and keep up with regular dental visits, while limiting sugary drinks and foods.
If your child loses a tooth in an accident, we might be able to put it back in place. Place the lost tooth and any fragments in milk, and call us right away for advice. Even if the tooth can’t be saved, we may recommend placing a spacer in your child’s mouth where the tooth would be. This will help ensure that the permanent teeth come in correctly.
Paying attention to your children’s dental health will help their baby teeth do their job―keeping smiles healthy and bright―until the tooth fairy is ready to do her job.
Mouth 911: Preventing Childhood Dental Emergencies
Many parents learn CPR, educate themselves on pool safety and the best car seats, and have a first-aid kit handy at all times. But most of us aren’t prepared for dental emergencies. Since prevention is the best medicine, here are some basic tips and guidelines to help you avoid accidents and trauma to your child’s mouth.
For young children:
- Make sure your children are never left unattended in a place where they might fall from a significant height (for example, a high chair or swing).
- Never let your children walk or run with a bottle or sippy cup in their mouth. If they trip and fall, that bottle or sippy cup could damage the gums, teeth and tongue.
- Avoid using cups with straws or letting them eat anything in the car, especially things with sticks such as lollipops. Even in a minor car accident, these objects could be forcefully thrust into the mouth.
- Be gentle when feeding your children with a spoon or fork; forceful thrusting can cut or tear fragile baby gums and cheeks.
For older children and teens:
- Always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports. Helmets and faceguards are also important if your children play sports with a high risk of injury to the head or face.
- Make sure your children take care of any orthodontic appliances they may wear. This includes taking out removable appliances before playing sports.
- Avoid crunchy or sticky foods that could damage braces or retainers.
- Tell us if your children grind their teeth. Chronic grinding can lead to chipped or damaged teeth.
For all children:
- Make sure your children are properly restrained in a car seat or booster seat, or with a seatbelt.
- If your children have certain conditions (such as epilepsy, seizures or ADHD) or have protruding front teeth, making them more prone to dental injuries, talk to us about ways to minimize risk.
Lastly, make sure our emergency contact information is readily available, because as every parent knows, accidents do happen—even with the best prevention. And ensure that your children brush, floss and see us regularly. Healthy teeth and gums will help your children recover more quickly if they do experience dental trauma.
Flossing: How Early Should You Begin?
When should your children begin to floss daily? When the adult teeth first start coming in? When all the adult teeth have come in? Actually, your children should begin flossing as soon as the surfaces of two baby teeth are touching. Usually, this first occurs with two adjacent back molars when your child is about 2 years old.
Daily flossing removes the plaque from tooth surfaces that a toothbrush misses, helping prevent both tooth decay and gum issues. Since it doesn’t matter if flossing occurs before or after brushing, let your children choose.
Of course, at age 2―and even beyond―your children are still learning their way around a toothbrush, so the actual flossing will be up to you for several years to come.
Make it a positive experience from the start. Tell your children that they are now so grown up that they get to use floss every day—just like Mom and Dad—and that you’re going to help.
As your children get older, they can certainly attempt flossing on their own. But children’s dexterity probably won’t be up to full speed until somewhere between the ages of 7 and 11. Once your children begin flossing solo, supervise a few times to ensure that they are reaching the back teeth and are doing an overall good job.
From the start, let your children have a hand in picking the floss that feels most comfortable. Many children prefer pre-threaded floss sticks or picks or water flossers. Regular floss comes both waxed and unwaxed, and silky tape floss is also available. When your children choose their favorite, it’s a good bet that they will be more likely to floss willingly and regularly.
During the first few days of flossing there may be a bit of discomfort and a little bleeding from the gums. Assure your children that it’s normal and will stop as soon as the gums get used to the process. If that doesn’t seem to be happening, let us know and we’ll help your children establish a comfortable and effective flossing habit at their next visit to our office.
Weighing the Risks of Oral Piercings
Oral piercings are an increasingly popular form of self-expression, and your teenager might show an interest in having his or her tongue, cheek or lip pierced. If your child expresses this intent, we strongly encourage both of you to discuss it with us at your next visit.
Oral piercings carry with them well-known risks of pain, infection and other oral health problems—risks you and your teen should be aware of before any piercing is done. While ear piercings are much less risky, oral piercings can interfere with speech, chewing and swallowing. They can lead to pain and swelling; in extreme cases, a severely swollen tongue can interfere with breathing and swallowing. Additional risks include the following:
- Infection. Because our mouths are home to millions of bacteria, piercing any part of the mouth can lead to an infection. Some of the more serious infections reported include blood-borne hepatitis and endocarditis; cases of Ludwig angina and herpes simplex have also been reported. Many of these infections can be life-threatening if not treated properly.
- Tooth damage. The common habit of biting or playing with the piercing can scratch or crack teeth, as can accidentally biting down hard on the piercing. The result may be very sensitive teeth.
- Prolonged bleeding. Striking a blood vessel during the piercing procedure can cause extensive bleeding in the mouth.
- Nerve damage. While a tongue piercing often results in a temporarily numb tongue, in some cases, the nerve damage can be permanent and can also affect the sense of taste.
- Interference with dental care. Metal jewelry in the mouth can impact x-rays.
For these reasons, the American Dental Association opposes oral piercings and encourages dentists to educate parents and teens on these risks. If your teen already has an oral piercing, be sure to adhere to a regular regimen of dental hygiene, including regular visits to our office. Call us or a physician at the first sign of infection.
Oral piercings are a serious matter. If your teen is considering a pierced lip, cheek or tongue, call us for an appointment so that we can review these risks with you and your child and ensure that a well-informed decision is made after weighing all the risks involved.