This article was originally published in the Chronicle Herald's weekly community papers and has been republished here with their permission.
When a baby gets that first tooth it’s an exciting milestone. It’s part of a parent’s role to help their child establish good oral health care from the start but there can be a lot of conflicting information online about the best way to do this and when to start. Dr. Ross Anderson, Chief of Dentistry at the IWK Health Centre and Head of the Division of Paediatric Dentistry at Dalhousie University, says that dental care begins “as soon as the first tooth erupts.”
To get started, Anderson recommends involving babies in a family “brush-in” once they are six months old by giving them a toothbrush to chew on for two minutes, twice daily, while the rest of the family brushes. After this, Anderson suggests the caregiver lay the child on a safe surface with the child’s head between their thighs to finish brushing their teeth and gums. This angle allows “direct vision for the parent and stabilizes the child’s head;” and “has the added advantage of the child getting used to something being done in their mouth while they are lying down,” which will help prepare them for their first visit to the dentist.
Parents should continue to assist their children with brushing until they are able to manage it themselves. A good rule of thumb is that: “Until a child can colour between the lines, or graduate from Velcro to tying their own shoelaces they will not have the manual dexterity to do a good job of brushing,” Anderson says.
The Canadian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry recommends children start visiting the dentist by their first birthday. Dr. Paula MacPherson is a general dentist and owner of Southgate Dentistry in Bedford. She has several young patients in her family practice and agrees that it’s important for parents to establish a good oral health routine with their children early on: “It’s like buckling kids into a car seat. They may not understand why you do it at first, but it quickly becomes a habit. Brushing teeth twice daily should be thought of the same way so that it becomes a habit.”
MacPherson suggests that parents go to a clinic that they know is familiar with treating children. She notes that it’s important for parents to try not to transfer any of their own anxieties about the dentist to their children: “Kids can sense what their parents are feeling and can tell if they’re nervous. Often parents are amazed at how comfortable their children are at the dentist.”
The first visit will focus on getting the child comfortable, counting their teeth, and, if old enough, talking to them about caring for their teeth, MacPherson says. While doing this they will also be assessing the child’s risk for tooth decay and, based on this exam, they may recommend using a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste, says Anderson.
In Nova Scotia all children from age birth to fourteen are eligible for basic dental care, according to the Health Canada website. April is Dental Health Month and April 5-11 is Dental Hygienists Week. It’s a perfect opportunity to start setting some positive oral health habits with your children and to be part of another milestone – their first visit to the dentist.