Early Learner’s Healthy Living

Thanks to the support of the First 5 Orange County, Orange County Department of Education, Wells Fargo Foundation and Horowitz Family, the Cube is able to provide information and ideas to help early learners embrace healthy living and active play.

Dental Hygiene for Kids
It is very important for young children to learn how to take care of their teeth to prevent future tooth decay, and in extreme cases, the loss of a tooth. The good news is tooth decay is mostly preventable.

What is tooth decay? Tooth decay is a disease that can begin with cavity-causing bacteria being passed from the saliva of the mother (or primary caregiver) to the infant. When the mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon in her mouth, or cleans a pacifier in her mouth, the bacteria can be passed to the baby. If your infant or toddler does not receive an adequate amount of fluoride, they may also have an increased risk for tooth decay. Fluoride is commonly found in tap water and toothpaste.

What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
(Reference: MouthHealthy.org) Baby Bottle Tooth Decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected. One common cause is the frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby.

What can you do to establish good dental health and hygiene for your child? It is as easy as following some basic guidelines.

Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (Reference: Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA)
• Try not to share saliva with your baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers. After each feeding, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
• When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and a smear (or grain of rice sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste until the age of 3.
• Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from the ages of 3 to 6.
• Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste – usually not before he or she is 6 or 7.
• Place only formula, milk, or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice, or soft drinks.
• Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
• If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean – don’t dip it in sugar or honey.
• Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his/her 1st birthday.
• Encourage healthy eating habits.

Primary Tooth Eruption. Check your child’s teeth. Generally, the first primary tooth erupts between 6 and 9 months of age, and by 3 years of age your child should have 20 primary teeth. If your child does not develop his first tooth by 9 months, you should see your child’s pediatrician. Healthy primary teeth are white without spots or stains, and healthy gums are smooth and pink. If your child’s teeth are spotty or stained, make an appointment with your dental care professional. The American Dental Association recommends that you make a dental visit 6 months after the first tooth appears, but no later than your child’s 1st birthday.

Cleaning Primary Teeth for Optimal Oral Health. From birth to 12 months, you should gently wipe your baby’s gums with a clean baby washcloth or gauze. When the first tooth appears, clean the surface using a baby toothbrush and water. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best time to clean your baby’s teeth is after breakfast and before bedtime.

Brushing and flossing are a very important part of your child’s dental hygiene regimen and it is very important to use the proper technique.

To brush your child’s teeth:
• Angle the brush at 45 degrees to the gums.
• Move the brush gently back and forth.
• Brush all surfaces of teeth (outer, inner, and chewing).
• To brush the inner surface of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically, and brush gently up and down.
• Brush the tongue to remove any bacteria.

To floss your child’s teeth:
• Cut about 18 inches of floss.
• Wrap one end around one middle finger and the rest around your other middle finger.
• Hold the floss tightly between the thumbs and forefingers, and gently insert it between the teeth.
• Curve the floss into a C shape, and gently move the floss up and down while keeping it pressed against the tooth.
• Floss all the teeth, and do not forget to floss behind the back teeth.

Flossing should begin only when your child has 2 teeth that are touching, which normally occurs around 2 to 2½ years of age. Children can usually brush independently by the age of 6, but they tend to have trouble flossing until they are around 8 to 10 years old. Floss holders are tools designed to help your child(ren) master the art of flossing. For older children, tying the ends of a piece of floss together to create a loop of about 10 inches will allow them to hold the floss between thumb and forefinger, thereby making it easier to floss using proper technique.

Most importantly, take care of your own teeth and model dental hygiene habits for you child(ren). You and your child can brush and floss together. Dental hygiene does not have to be a chore. Instead, it can be a fun bonding activity for you and your child. Encourage your child(ren) to brush his/her teeth to the rhythm of a tune or song.