Parenting a toddler is never an easy task, but one of the biggest challenges in keeping their teeth clean. It’s easy to forget: new teeth seem to be healthy teeth, and the wiggly and contrary nature of toddlers makes hygiene difficult, so many parents skip the routine to save on aggravation. This is a mistake, however. It’s important to begin a good dental hygiene routine on babies as soon as their teeth appear and establish good dental hygiene habits in very young children.

Plaque Buildup Starts Early

Cleaning and brushing teeth remove plaque — the build-up on teeth that causes tooth decay. While you can wipe infants’ teeth with a small cloth or a toothbrush and plain water, by 18 months, you should be using a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Use fluoride toothpaste that carries the American Dental Association’s (ADA) seal of acceptance.

Encourage the child to spit out the toothpaste after brushing, but don’t rinse. Encouraging the child to swish and spit might make swallowing toothpaste more likely. Clean all surfaces of the teeth and gums twice a day (after breakfast and before bed, preferably). Once your child’s incoming teeth are touching, use a small amount of dental floss to remove any food from between them.

Reduce Sugar Intake

Dentists and pediatricians recommend parents limit the number of sugary drinks such as juice that toddlers are given. Substitute plain water instead. Sugar in juice, milk or soft drinks can sit on children’s teeth and lead to cavity formation.

Set a Good Example

Children learn by watching, so let your toddler sit with you while you brush and floss your own teeth. (Be sure you’re doing it right!) Encourage the child to mimic you with a toothbrush and water to help build good habits.

Even if your child seems competent in brushing, he or she will continue to need help. Children generally need an adult to help them brush their teeth until they are about seven or eight years of age.

A Professional Assessment

By two years of age, all children should have a professional oral assessment provided by a dentist or other oral health professional, maternal and child health nurse or doctor. (The ADA recommends that children see a dentist by their first birthday.) Regular check-ups can help to spot problems early when they are easier to treat. Look for a pediatric dentist who specializes in the dental care of children. If a child seems prone to tooth decay, the dentist may begin applying topical fluoride.

CT Pediatric Dentistry can ensure good dental health in a way that’s ideal for young children. To contact CT Pediatric Dentistry, call 860-523-4213 in West Hartford; 860-456-0506 in North Windham; or 860-673-3900 in Unionville, or visit our web site.