Guest Post By: Dr. Gary Vance, D.D.S., dental director of Specialty Products at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
Believe it or not, good oral health plays an important role in a child’s physical development. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases among childhood in the United States. As we age, the shape and structure of the mouth changes to accommodate incoming teeth. Throughout this process, it’s important to maintain a dental routine that meets the specific needs of a child’s teeth at different ages.
Children’s Dental Care by Age
From infancy to childhood, the key to managing dental health is consistency. A regular routine will lead to a brighter smile and a healthier future. Consider the following age-by-age guide when determining the best means of dental care for a child:
- Zero to Six Months: It’s critical to establish a dental routine in the first few months of a baby’s life, even before teeth appear. Start by gently rubbing the gums with a clean cloth or gauze and avoiding milk or juice at bedtime. Doing so cause bacteria to build up, which can lead to dental problems later in life.
- Six Months to One Year: By 10 or 12 months, it’s time to schedule a child for their first pediatric dental appointment. Continue the routine of washing without toothpaste throughout this period and take note of any discoloration in the teeth, as this could be an early sign of tooth decay.
- One to Two Years: At this time, a child’s teeth can be cleaned with a soft-bristle tooth brush and pee-sized dab of fluoride-free toothpaste. This will prime the gums for additional teeth, while preventing oral health complications. It’s also important to note which food and beverages are not good for the teeth, including: candy, soft drinks, citrus fruits and too many starches made from white flour.
- Two to Six Years: Throughout this age window, children can learn how to brush their own teeth with supervision or someone to check for thoroughness. Around the third birthday, introduce regular flossing to limit plaque buildup. Be sure to introduce apples, celery, dairy products, eggs and water with fluoride to the diet as a means of strengthening and protecting the teeth.
- Six to 12 Years: Although a child of this age should be capable of brushing on their own, supervision is still recommended. Kids often continue to need help, especially with flossing, until the age of 10. As adult teeth arrive, dentists often recommend applying a sealants to the newly erupted permanent teeth to protect against tooth decay and cavities. Children will also be exposed to fluoride, which supports teeth development and can be found in mouthwashes and fluoridated water. Topical applications of fluoride and fluoride varnish, which are typically applied at a dental check-up, strengthen the enamel and reduce the risk of tooth decay. This is also the age when dental professionals can determine whether or not a child could need braces.
- 12 Years and Beyond: By this age, adult teeth should be fully grown in, with dental exams confirming their presence. In the coming years, monitor closely for the eruption of wisdom teeth and have them removed if any problems arise. Also continue routine cleanings as gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Dr. Gary Vance, D.D.S. is the dental director of Specialty Products at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.