Thoughtful Parenting: Make children’s oral health a priority |

Thoughtful Parenting: Make children’s oral health a priority

Malea Johnson/For Steamboat Today

February is National Children's Dental Health Month, making this a great time to focus on oral health for both you and your family.

It is essential to take care of your child's teeth. Healthy baby teeth act as space maintainers for permanent teeth, build a child's self-esteem, aid speech development and are instrumental for good nutrition. By taking care of their baby teeth, children begin to develop good life-long oral health habits. Untreated, problems in baby teeth can compromise oral health into adulthood.

Often, women who are pregnant or thinking about starting a family are more mindful of their health — exercising more, making better nutritional choices and eliminating tobacco products. This also is a crucial time to prioritize oral health. Due to changing hormone levels during pregnancy, women's gums are often extra sensitive to excess plaque and bacteria resulting in inflammation and bleeding. Never skip a dental checkup or cleaning when you are pregnant. This is a critical time to have regular dental care and keep your mouth as healthy as possible.

Oral health care starts in infancy. Gently wipe down your baby's gums with a clean damp washcloth after each feeding. Brushing should start as soon as teeth begin to appear. Brush your child's teeth both morning and evening; focus the toothbrush along the gumline.

The American Dental Association recommends using a smear of fluoridated toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) for children younger than three. If your child is still too young to spit, simply wipe off his or her teeth after brushing. Never put your baby to bed with a bottle containing any liquid other than water. Even milk can cause cavities in your baby's teeth. Avoid sharing utensils with your child; bacteria can easily transfer between child and parent.

The ADA also recommends children have their first dental visit by the age of one. As your child begins to grow, continue to make dental appointments every six months and monitor his or her oral care at home. It is good to have young children brush their own teeth first, followed by the parent brushing, to ensure thorough plaque removal.

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A healthy mouth is essential for a healthy body. Help keep your child healthy by encouraging him or her to incorporate and maintain good oral habits throughout every stage of life.

Malea Johnson is dental services coordinator and dental hygienist at Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.