Next stop on the path to strong and healthy teeth is home care! What can you do for your little one’s teeth at home? We sat down with one of our care experts, Dr. Patricia, DMD, MPH who also has two little ones of her own, to get some answers!
INTERVIEWER: Hi, Dr. Patricia! Thank you for chatting with us today. I imagine your oral health routine is perfect! What do you do at home with your little ones?
PATRICIA: Taking care of my own kids’ teeth can sure be challenging – I’m definitely far from perfect! As a working mom of two little ones, ages one and three, I totally understand the obstacles parents face when it comes to having an oral health routine. I’ve come to realize that the best routine is more about having balance than perfection. You want to strive for sustainability!
INTERVIEWER: Sustainability, that’s a helpful way to think about it. Toddlers can be tricky. Any tips to get them to brush when they really don’t want to?
PATRICIA: It’s important to establish the routines early, so even if they don’t want to brush, they know this is a part of their day – like taking a bath, or bedtime. A few simple things that help us include brushing while playing songs, or letting the kids brush and play with one toothbrush, while I take a second toothbrush to their teeth. Another helpful tip for the babies – and I can’t take credit for this, but it has been so helpful for our little one – is to keep a toothbrush by the changing table and brush quickly before diaper changes. Then as he plays with the toothbrush, I sneak a quick diaper change in!
INTERVIEWER: I love that! I’ll make sure to pick up an extra toothbrush the next chance I get. What about pacifiers and bottles? Will they affect my little one’s bite?
PATRICIA: So really anything that pushes your mouth into an unnatural position for a prolonged period of time will change the way your teeth fit together. That’s not to say that pacifiers and bottles shouldn’t be used (my babies definitely used them), but there is a lot of research to support that with earlier weaning from bottle and pacifier, we can see better development of the jaw and the airway, as well as better position of the teeth. In an ideal world, we would want kids to switch to the open cup or soft straw cup by age one, and also work to stop the pacifier by then. But gently weaning in a way that fits the family’s lifestyle is also okay.
INTERVIEWER: That’s good to know. I have another question for you. What about snacks? What do you recommend or avoid for your toddlers?
PATRICIA: Toddlers are grazing snackers by nature, so I try to have snacks on hand with fat (cheese, dairy), or fiber (fruit slices, berries), and limit starchy, sticky snacks. I also don’t make a habit of leaving the toddler with a snack bag full of crackers, puffs or raisins that he can feed himself throughout the day. Surprisingly, this (and not candy) is probably the biggest cause of cavities in this age group! So, I try to be a stickler on this. Of course, toddlers will eat crackers and cereals, but it makes a huge difference if it’s given to them by a parent at a set meal time and brushed out afterwards or rinsed with water. Another helpful habit is to have toddlers carry a water bottle (preferably with a soft straw) to sip throughout the day and rinse down those sticky snacks.
INTERVIEWER: Wow, that is surprising – I would have totally thought candy was the cavity culprit. Were you ever afraid to go to the dentist?
PATRICIA: You know, it’s kind of funny looking back, but I really loved the dentist growing up. I actually “decided” that I wanted to be a dentist when I was seven (see the picture of me with my little sister). I know that’s not the norm, but growing up, I was super lucky to have an amazing dentist who gave me so much positive reinforcement at each visit. He would always make a point to compliment and praise me, and to this day I still remember how that made me feel. Now as a dentist, I really try to be a cheerleader for my patients and parents, because everyone needs a little boost during their day, and I know firsthand how it can have a lasting impact on these kids’ oral health experience over their lifetime.
INTERVIEWER: What a great story. Thank you so much for chatting with us, Dr. Patricia!
PATRICIA: My pleasure!