For years, the American Dental Association (ADA) and other organizations have made a concerted effort to educate children and their parents about the importance of oral health self care, such as brushing and flossing properly every day. The United States government has also done a lot of work in this area, including making child dental care a priority for insurance programs run at the federal and state level.
Their efforts have made an impact, with a drop in the level of pediatric tooth decay in the United States over the past several decades.
But, parents and children can’t just sit back and assume these positive steps mean they no longer need to worry about tooth decay or other oral health issues. Just as it is for infants, teens, adults, and seniors, adequate dental care is incredibly important for children between the ages of 6 to 12. Here are some important facts to keep in mind and tips to help make children’s dental care a priority in your house:
It’s a learned habit
Dentists recommend that children brush and floss after every meal, or three times per day. Of course, every young child has far too many important games to play and places to explore to think about that consistently on their own.
You’ll likely need to help your child brush and floss until he or she is a little older, but it’s best to let them do it themselves first before you take over. It may help to use child-size flossers with handles to teach proper flossing techniques, and a toothbrush that’s designed specifically for kids. Then, after they’re done, take a final look to ensure the child’s teeth are adequately clean.
Following this pattern, you can be sure they’re keeping good care of their teeth, and they’re getting practice for maintaining good oral health habits as they grow.
Fast growth and change
Between the ages of 6 and 12, children generally lose all of their baby (primary) teeth. These are slowly replaced with their adult (permanent) teeth. Here’s how it generally goes:
- The incisors, or “front teeth,” will likely come first on the top and bottom at around 6 to 7 years old.
- Then come the 6-year molars
- The lateral incisors are next
- Then, the rest follow, filling in further back in the jaw.
- By age 13, after the 12-year molars grow in, your child will be sporting a mouthful of permanent teeth.
This is an especially important time to make sure your child sees the dentist regularly. As adult molars start coming in, how they develop will have an impact on the shape of the jaw, the child’s bite, and other factors that could affect them in the future.
It’s also possible for a slowly loosening primary tooth to hide tooth decay in a newly erupting permanent tooth. This phenomenon can also cause adult teeth to come in misaligned. How quickly a baby tooth loosens and comes out is based on a number of factors, so every child is different.
Finally, the periods during which baby teeth are loose can impact oral hygiene. It creates gaps beneath which food particles can get lodged. At the same time, the area may be tender, making the child more likely to skip brushing and flossing or do a superficial job.
Kids will be kids
Any parent will tell you, it’s common for kids at this age to start asserting their independence even though they’re obviously not ready to start making all their own decisions. As a result, they may either rebel against hygiene habits like brushing their teeth, or fail to accept the fact that taking care of their oral health is important enough to take time away from other fun and exciting things they could be doing.
Despite the possible challenges this brings, it’s important for parents to make sure brushing and flossing are being done thoroughly every single day.
Beware the sweet tooth
Likewise, kids at this age often have an insatiable sweet tooth. We all know you can prevent cavities by mitigating sugar intake from foods like candy, fruit juices, soda, and other sugary drinks and snacks. And, you may have already taught your child that fact. But children and preteens aren’t known for their self-discipline when a sugary treat is calling their name.
If your child does indulge in sweets, be sure they’re brushing consistently, and drinking plenty of water to rinse and prevent dry mouth. If your child chews gum, it’s best to choose sugar-free varieties, which prevent cavities.
Encourage healthy eating
Beyond reining in the amount of added sugars consumed, there’s a lot more parents can do to make sure a child’s diet is helping, rather than hurting, their oral health. Some kids may not love all the healthy foods below, but most will be willing to eat healthy if it’s not presented as a chore or a punishment. Here are some great choices for better oral health:
- Low-fat dairy products
- Dark, leafy greens
- Crunchy fruits and veggies
- Lean proteins
- Plenty of fresh water
Be especially mindful of your child’s dietary preferences around the time the 6-year molars are coming in. They’ll likely prefer softer foods or experience appetite shifts due to tenderness. You can accommodate your child with healthy, soft fruits, smoothies, soups, and steamed veggies.
Make dental care a fun routine
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prioritize your child’s dental care is to make sure they’re visiting the dentist at least twice every year for a routine examination and professional cleaning.
No, going to the dentist isn’t always the highlight of a child’s week. But, it also doesn’t need to be a dreaded occasion. Be positive and talk it up. Most dentists willing to see young children have arrangements in place to make the experience as fun, engaging, and comfortable as possible. If your current family dentist isn’t as accommodating as you’d like, explore other options in the area.
If your child suffers from real fear or anxiety prior to a visit, try some of the tips in this helpful guide — Overcoming Fear of the Dentist. You can also work with your dentist to help resolve the situation so it doesn’t plague your child into adulthood.
When your child receives proper dental care and forms good habits at home, they increase the chances that their permanent teeth will last a lifetime. Bringing your child to the dentist for regular exams, cleanings, and x-rays is critical to keeping their oral health in peak condition. For affordable dental care discounts on regular maintenance and cleanings, as well as more costly dental procedures, a dental discount plan can save you up to 50 percent off the retail cost of care.