Caring for Kids…at Billings Clinic

Caring for those pearly whites

When that first tooth comes in, it is so exciting and a little relieving.  Some children are very easy teethers but my kids were terrible.  I lost sleep, my kids lost sleep. I felt like I was giving them Tylenol all the time.  They were fussy, and I was probably a little crabby too.  I just kept thinking “I sure hope not every tooth is going to be this hard,” but we made it through.

Once the teeth started coming in, it was time to focus on taking good care of them.  You want to make sure that all the current and future teeth are healthy and strong.  A few simple tips can help you improve your children’s oral health.

Get into good habits and routine before teeth start coming. For example, use a washcloth to wipe off the gums before bedtime.  Once the teeth erupt, it is important to start brushing them twice a day.  Using a soft bristle children’s toothbrush is important.  I never liked the little finger ones because my kids would always bite down and it hurt. So stick to the toothbrush and save your fingers the pain of a strong little bite from your little one.

Toothpaste or not?  When children are less than a year old, you can use training toothpaste (contains no fluoride) or none at all.  Just the action of the bristles and water can scrub the teeth clean.  Starting at 1 year of age you can use a small bit of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a rice grain) on the toothbrush.  Most one year olds still swallow the toothpaste and that’s okay in tiny amounts.  At age 2 a pea-size bit of fluoride toothpaste is appropriate.  Try to teach the 2 year olds and older children to spit out the toothpaste.  If they are unable to spit, stick to the rice grain size until they learn.

Up and down, back and forth, or around in circles?  To tell you the truth, it really doesn’t matter what direction you brush the teeth. What is important is that all of the teeth and the whole tooth are cleaned. This means that children under 8 years of age need lots of help and supervision with brushing. Kids this age also love to mimic mom and dad so show your kids how it’s done by letting them watch you brush your teeth.

Along with good brushing you can help those little chompers by staying away from sugar.  Sugary drinks like soda and juice are not good for teeth.  Try to only allow a small amount of sugary drinks for special occasions and stick to water and milk for everyday beverages.  Never let your child take a bottle or sippy cup filled with anything but water to bed.  The continuous exposure to the sugar in the bottles or sippy cup can cause dental decay.  Another common problem for teeth is very sticky foods like fruit snacks, crackers, caramel, toffee, or dried fruit.

When should you see the dentist? Schedule a check-up with a dentist every 6 months starting when the child is somewhere between 1 and 3 year of age.  At each of your well visits, the pediatrician will examine your child’s teeth and might refer you to a dentist at any point.  If you, as a parent, see any abnormalities on your child’s teeth you should make an appointment with a dentist no matter what age.

Leslie Poling, MD

I am a board certified pediatrician at Billings Clinic, a Montana native, and a working mother of two. My children are a great source of enjoyment in my life as well as entertainment. It is common for me to share some of my parenting tips and funny stories about my kids with my patients. As a family we enjoy the outdoors here in Montana. We spend weekends camping, playing soccer and baseball, hunting, fishing, skiing, and just spending time together. I want this blog to be a source of medical information, but also a place to come and learn more about some of the pediatricians that work here at Billings Clinic. Enjoy!

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