Your child’s oral health may be even more important than you think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who experience oral health problems are more likely to miss more school and get poorer grades than their peers. In fact, dental cavities, known as tooth decay, are the most common chronic disease for children and adolescents ages 6 to 19.

But there’s good news: many oral health issues, including cavities, can be prevented with the help of healthy habits, a balanced diet and regular dental care. And dental insurance coverage can help parents access affordable diagnostic and preventive procedures to improve their children’s oral health.

Read on for tips on establishing oral health habits, identifying potential problems and preventing dental emergencies for your children.

How to instill healthy dental habits in children

According to the American Dental Association, you should take your child to the dentist soon after they get their first tooth, but no later than their first birthday. Of course, good dental habits should start even before that milestone! Here are some steps to take.  

  1. Make cleaning a part of the routine. Did you know that when your baby was born, his or her 20 primary teeth were already there, beneath the gums? A few days after birth, the ADA advises that it’s important to wipe your baby’s gums gently twice a day—after the first and last feeding—with a moist cloth or gauze pad. That will help rid the mouth of any bacteria or sugar that could cause cavities.
  2. Brush twice a day. When your child’s teeth start to come in, ask their dentist for advice on brushing and flossing. The ADA suggests brushing twice a day, using a toothbrush designed for children. For children who are younger than 3, use a rice-grain sized smear of fluoride toothpaste, and for ages 3 to 6, use a pea-sized dab. When the child has teeth that are touching one another, it’s time to start flossing once a day. Make these all a part of your regular daily routine, so they become good habits and your child can, in time, do them on his or her own.  
  3. Limit sugar consumption. In general, try and limit food and drinks with added sugars, opting instead for healthy snacks, including fruits and vegetables. It’s especially important to avoid giving kids milk, formula or sugary drinks or snacks after they’ve brushed their teeth because it could lead to tooth decay. Encourage your kids to drink water, rather than soda, fruit juice or sugary drinks; and talk to your dentist about foods that might help protect your children’s teeth.
  4. Set a good example. When instilling habits, it’s important to be a good role model. Let your child know that you, too, take your oral health seriously. Follow the rules you set for them so they know that you brush in the morning and at night and floss daily.
  5. Make regular check-up appointments with the dentist. America’s Pediatric Dentists recommends a check-up every six months, in order to prevent dental problems and cavities. Talk to your own dentist about how frequently you should schedule a cleaning and exam for your family. 

When to call the dentist

While twice-a-year visits can help with preventing oral health issues, problems and emergencies can still arise between visits. Don’t hesitate to call your dentist if your child is experiencing the following problems:

  • Persistent tooth pain or discomfort
  • A dental emergency, like a cracked or knocked-out tooth
  • Bleeding or swollen gums
  • Difficulty eating or chewing
  • Jaw pain
  • Objects stuck in the mouth

How to help prevent dental emergencies

Of course, accidents happen. But there are steps you can take, as a parent, to help keep your child’s pearly whites safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the following:

  • If your child is participating in sports, purchase a mouth guard to protect their teeth.
  • Teeth should not be used as scissors. Use your hands or a tool to open packages—not your mouth.
  • Don’t allow your child to carry objects in his or her mouth—especially when walking or running. Lollipops, popsicles, pencils and other items can cause damage should they trip or fall.
  • Block stairways and landings in your home using gates, to prevent dangerous falls.

For kids, a healthy mouth is just as important as other aspects of mental and physical health. By establishing good habits and visiting the dentist regularly, you may be able to help your children avoid common oral health issues from an early age. And that’s something to smile about.