For years, oral health advocates such as dentists, 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.
These combined efforts have borne fruit, as there has been a drop in the level of pediatric tooth decay in the United States over the past several decades.
But these positive steps don’t mean tooth decay or other oral health issues are no longer concerns for children. Just as it is for infants, teens, adults, and seniors, adequate dental care is incredibly important for children between the ages of 6-12. That means parents and guardians, you bear the brunt of enforcing positive oral health habits at home.
The good news is that you’re not alone. As family oral health advocates, we’re here to help offer some tips and tricks to help make children’s dental care a priority in your house.
Why children’s oral health is so important
Between ages 6-12, children generally lose all of their primary teeth, better known as “baby 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 ages 6-7
- Then come the six-year molars
- The lateral incisors are next
- Then, the rest of the teeth 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.
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 several 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.
Because a child’s teeth are going through so many changes during this time, it is important to make sure your child sees their dentist regularly to monitor the development of their adult teeth.
Dental hygiene is 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. That’s why you’ll likely need to help your child brush and floss until he or she is a little older. But make sure they are actively doing it themselves before stepping in to help and offer guidance.
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 getting important practice for maintaining good oral health habits as they grow.
Don’t lose patience when kids decide to be kids
Any parent will tell you that it’s common for kids at this age to start asserting their independence, even though they are clearly not ready to start making all their own decisions. As a result, they may rebel against brushing their teeth and not want to stop the fun or exciting thing they are doing to practice those good dental hygiene habits they’ve been practicing.
We understand this can be challenging, but it’s important for parents to make sure their children are still brushing and flossing thoroughly. We promise, it will get easier with time.
Beware the sweet tooth and get creative with healthy snacking
Speaking of kids being kids, children often have an insatiable sweet tooth at this age. We all know you can prevent cavities by reducing the consumption of candy, fruit juices, soda, and other sugary drinks and snacks. But even if this message is taught at home, children and preteens aren’t exactly known for their self-discipline when a sugary treat is calling their name.
To help curb a sweet tooth, try these five tips to keep your child’s mouth healthy while getting their fix for a snack satisfied. If your child does indulge in sweets, be sure they’re brushing their teeth and drinking plenty of water to rinse and prevent dry mouth. If your child chews gum, try to get the sugar-free varieties, which prevent cavities.
Note: Be especially mindful of your child’s dietary preferences around the time the six-year molars are coming in. They’ll likely prefer softer foods or experience appetite shifts due to tenderness. You can accommodate your child with soft fruits, smoothies, soups and steamed veggies.
Make the dentist visit something to look forward to
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 creating a positive outlook for the experience will help foster a child’s attitude toward seeking dental care for years to come. To help reinforce the positive vibes, most dentists have arrangements in place to make the experience as fun, engaging, and comfortable as possible.
The bottom line: Ages 6-12 are incredibly important in a child’s tooth development, so it’s crucial to enforce good oral health habits. Dental hygiene is a learned habit that will come with practice. Don’t lose patience when kids act like kids and make sure they brush and floss if they do indulge in sweets. Work in tandem with your dentist to make your child’s appointments a positive experience.