Things Parents Don’t Know About Their Children’s Dental Health: Getting Started

The Super Dentists recently conducted an extensive study about the most important aspects of oral hygiene for kids and pediatric dental care. We looked at overall dental health, what factors parents consider when choosing a dentist, frequency of dental screenings, signs and symptoms of dental health problems, and much more.

More than 400 parents across the country responded to our survey, which included questions ranging from when a child should first see the dentist to how dental health issues impact overall wellbeing to which issues should be addressed as a child grows from toddler to teenager. Our research uncovered plenty of surprising results! Keep reading to learn how early you should establish healthy oral hygiene routines and how to maintain dental health through preschool and beyond. 

When Should Your Child See a Dentist for the First Time?

Our survey revealed that many parents aren’t beginning oral hygiene for kids early enough. Of over 400 respondents, one-third (133) waited until their child was 3 years old to visit the dentist for the first time. This data strongly contrasts what pediatricians told parents about when children should first see a dentist. Nearly 150 respondents never asked when their child should see the dentist. More than a quarter of pediatricians told parents to take their child to a dentist by age 1, while 22% said by age 3 or later. But how does perception stack up against reality?

When should your child visit a dentist for the first time? Dentist, dental expert and dad, Dr. Kami Hoss, recommends parents heed the “1-4-7” rule. While each child is different, Dr. Hoss recommends parents take their child to see a pediatric dentist for the first time no later than age 1. Slightly over one-third (137) of survey respondents took their child to the dentist at age one as recommended. From there, Dr. Hoss suggests addressing children’s bad oral habits, like thumb sucking or nail biting, by age 4, and having their child evaluated by an orthodontist no later than age 7. 

The True Impact of Pediatric Dental Health Issues

Research shows the link between oral health and overall health, and this holds true for children, too. Tooth decay is just one of the many outcomes of poor oral health. In reality, poor oral health can impact mental, emotional, and physical health in a number of ways. We wanted to see what parents had to say about this. 

Regardless of when parents had taken their kids to the dentist, they clearly understood the impacts of poor oral health. According to parents, the most worrisome aspects of tooth decay include the impacts on their children’s overall confidence, long-term physical health, and proper teeth and gum development. These three responses comprised over half of all responses. Bullying and psychological health, as it relates to their children’s smiles, were also mentioned.

How do undetected oral health problems affect their children? General pain, subpar nutrition, and lack of sleep were the most common answers. The answers suggest that parents have a pretty good read on the importance of tooth and gum health and oral hygiene for kids.

Dental Health As Your Child Grows

0-1 Years Old

About one in five respondents (21% of parents) took their child to the dentist between the ages of 6 months and 1 year old. This figure closely aligns with what they were told by their pediatrician. (27%). Generally speaking, once that first tooth appears, it’s time to make your baby’s first dentist appointment. 

By 1 year old, it’s also important to start establishing good dental practices at regular times. Dental health tips for parents of babies age 0-1 include:

  • Brushing baby’s teeth with an infant brush or finger brush (no toothpaste is OK at this stage)
  • Flossing baby’s teeth as soon as there are two or more teeth touching

Does Breastfeeding have an impact on how your children’s teeth come in?

In regards to breastfeeding, some parents expressed concern about proper teeth and gum development. However, the good news is that breastfeeding can help reduce cavities and promote excellent oral health.

1-2 Years Old

The ages between 1-3 sometimes involve thumbsucking and pacifier use, and breaking children of these two habits is on most parents’ radar. That’s because both habits can negatively impact teeth placement and can also impact the shape of the roof of the mouth. Half of parents surveyed reported their children thumbsucking and nearly half (45%) confirmed their child was still using a pacifier after 1 years old. 

Since thumbsucking and using a pacifier can affect the development of the palate and the alignment of teeth, it is strongly recommended that parents help children eliminate these habits as early as possible. At the very latest, parents should work toward eliminating pacifier use between 1 and 2 years old or phase it out entirely before the child is 3 years old. Additional dental health tips for parents of kids age 2-3 include:

  • Encouraging kids to brush twice daily
  • Using a grain of rice-sized smear of fluoride toothpaste 
  • Teaching kids to floss on a regular basis 
  • Making brushing fun by incorporating a song, a game, or a reward
  • Visiting the dentist regularly to get used to dental checkups

Parents should expect to be fully involved in their children’s oral care routine. At this age, children don’t have the dexterity to be able to floss by themselves. They can’t spit out toothpaste very well, which is why they’ll use such a small amount. They also aren’t able to grasp how long two minutes is, which is the recommended amount of time to brush. As such, they’ll need help flossing and learning how to brush long enough. One helpful tip for brushing can be introducing a brushing song that lasts 2 full minutes! Brush along with the Super Dentist to help kids get a feel for the amount of time it takes, and make brushing more fun. 

3-5 Years Old

The 3-5 age range is an important transition point for oral hygiene for kids and pediatric oral health. This is the point when potentially harmful habits should be broken, and a more established oral health care regimen is implemented to ensure dental health in preschool. Teaching dental hygiene to preschoolers should be a healthy balance between education and fun to keep kids interested. Dental health tips for kids this age include:

  • Visiting the dentist every six months
  • Asking whether it’s time for an orthodontic screening (by age 7 at the latest)
  • Parental supervision during oral care routine to encourage good oral care habits
  • Using a dollop of fluoride toothpaste the size of a pea
  • Practicing spitting out toothpaste properly
  • Addressing issues such as nail biting/chewing. 

Fingernail biting and chewing: Is it hurting your child’s teeth?

Nail biting and chewing is another common habit that negatively impacts teeth and should be discouraged. About 30% of parents confirmed their children bite their nails, so if your kids are doing it, know that it’s not unusual. Still, it’s best to help your children break the habit to help encourage better dental health in preschool years.

6-10 Years Old

At 6 years old, children are off to elementary school. The next four yearsall the way up to age 10is another critical period for oral health. Healthy oral hygiene habits established during this time can really help children “lock in” positive oral health care practices for the rest of their lives.

With the abundance of so many food and snack options, cavities are, unfortunately, a major issue with this age group. In fact, 45% of parents who responded to our survey think that 1 in 5 children between 6-10 years old have at least one dental cavity. Fluoride toothpaste becomes especially important at this point to help protect your kids’ teeth against decay.

Dental health tips for kids to decrease the development of cavities between 6-10 years old include:

  • Encouraging healthy dental care habits daily
  • Encouraging a healthy and balanced diet
  • Continuing bi-annual dental visits
  • Brushing and flossing with your child

How to Maintain Healthy Teeth Activities Through the Years

Get started by modeling positive, productive dental care habits and healthy teeth activities with your children beginning when they’re babies. Then, from toddler to age 10 (and beyond!), continue modeling healthy and consistent oral care while teaching new skills in order to establish a formidable foundation of lifelong health. 

Dr. Kami Hossfounder of The Super Dentists, Howard Healthcare Academy, and Acceledonticsknows all about the importance of pediatric dental care. Dr. Hoss’s website offers a variety of educational and informational resources, including dental articles, social media links, and other helpful content. 

Dr. Hoss has also written a book titled If Your Mouth Could Talk. Connecting the importance of oral health with overall health, his book helps educate readers about why maintaining your oral health is essential. Readers will also learn about how healthcare professionals can collaborate to achieve optimal results for patients. 

Pre-order your copy of If Your Mouth Could Talk today and receive a free bonus gift bundle, including a $25 gift card to The Super Dentists and a FREE copy of Dr. Hoss’s ebook, “The Surprising Link Between Oral Health and COVID-19.” You’ll get expert insights into the mouth-body connection and how you can ensure a longer, healthier life for your kids. To learn more now about what parents may not know about their children’s dental health and adolescent dental care, check out the second part of this series- School Years and Beyond.

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