February may conjure up thoughts of Valentines and romance, but did you know it’s also National Children’s Dental Health Month? According to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children. Thankfully, it’s preventable. The American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors this awareness month to promote the importance of oral health, even for babies and young children. This year’s slogan is “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile,” referring to the fluoridation of the water in most communities. An optimal level of fluoride in water can help reduce the risk of tooth decay by at least 25% in kids and adults.

Dental Care for Babies and Children
Even babies need dental care – as a newborn, you can wipe the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad. When they start cutting teeth, decay can start, so it’s important to start brushing the teeth twice a day. Use a baby/child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice, says the ADA.

Avoid dipping pacifiers in formula or juice to get your baby to take it, as this can contribute to tooth decay. Even cleaning a pacifier (or spoon) in your mouth and then giving it to your baby can introduce bacteria and decay. Putting babies to sleep with a bottle can also cause tooth decay, especially of the top two teeth.

For kids ages 3-6, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste is recommended, and as soon as they have two teeth that touch, flossing should occur.

Dental Visits
Does it surprise you that the first visit to the dentist should be no later than the first birthday? Us, too. When the first tooth breaks through, a visit should be scheduled, or within the next 6 months. This is mostly to introduce them to the dentist, get them acclimated to it, and have the dentist look at their mouth for any issues, including tongue/lip tie, jaw issues, and so forth. It also gives you a chance to talk with the dentist about any concerns you might have about pacifier use or thumb sucking.

Make Dental Health Fun!
Good oral health habits are important to start early, so why not make it fun? Have your child pick out their own toothbrush – their favorite color or cartoon character – and their own toothpaste. There are lots of different flavored toothpastes on the market for kids, and this way, they can have one that’s just for them.

Buy a colorful timer so they can make sure they’re brushing for 2 minutes each time. Brush and floss your own teeth alongside them, so they can model you.

How do you make dental health fun for your kids?