We Asked the Expert: Raising Kids with Healthy Teeth


Disclosure: We at Nashville Moms Blog want to bring you the information you need from local professionals. In today’s post we present to you a local dentist’s perspective on “Raising Kids with Healthy Teeth.”

Dr. Tom Hadley and his wife, Stacia, own a dental practice in East Nashville (East Side Smiles). My three year old sat in Dr. Hadley’s chair for the first time this winter and had his second cleaning this week. So far, we’re in the cavity-free club, but with sugary treats available at almost every party, pot luck, playgroup, and even errands we run (they STILL hand out suckers at the bank!?!)…I asked him to give me the nitty gritty on taking care of my boys’ teeth.

Dr. Hadley’s Guide to Kids’ Teeth

Brushing the monster's pearly whites
Brushing the monster’s pearly whites

Ensuring a child’s optimal dental health and encouraging good hygiene practices at an early age are two of the most important and challenging parenting duties. Developing habits at a young age will pay dividends in good health later; however, damage done at an early age affects a person for their entire life. Knowing what to do as your child grows gives parents the best chance of passing down a healthy mouth to the younger generation.

That sweet toothless grin

The best time to get started with oral hygiene is before the baby teeth even erupt. At bath time a simple gum massage with a warm wet washcloth gets an infant used to the fact that mom and dad are going to be in their mouth on a regular basis. Since babies love to put things in their mouths, it is also perfectly acceptable to give them an infant tooth brush that has extra soft bristles as a chew toy as long as they are being watched—since there is a slight choking hazard.

First tooth sighting

Once the first baby teeth have erupted (around 8-11 months) brushing in earnest should begin—but skip the toothpaste. Bath time is still a great time for this practice. As more teeth erupt, a Sonicare or Oral B tooth brush which has a two minute timer is an excellent tool to ensure that optimal cleaning is happening. For best results, both parent and child should each use the toothbrush for one minute. Disclosing tablets or solution can be used before and after brushing to show kids places they have missed. A children’s fluoridated toothpaste can be used once the child can be trusted not to swallow the paste. An amount only the size of a grain of rice is necessary.

Dr. Tom at work
Dr. Tom at work

First trip to the dentist

Sometime between the ages of two and four is a great window for a first trip to the dentist for an exam and cleaning. Prior to this visit though, parents should be encouraged to bring the kids to the office during their own cleanings just to see how the process works. This familiarity with the facility goes a long way.

Regarding the age at the first visit: if a two year old is confident and ready for an exam and cleaning, then that’s great. If a child is more cautious and anxious, then waiting until age four is not a problem.

First x-rays

At the age of six, it is recommended that a child have a first set of x-rays to verify that development is normal and there is no decay between the teeth. Sometimes a child will develop the need for treatment beyond cleanings.

Preventing cavities and other problems

The American diet is rich in refined sugar and fighting tooth decay is an uphill battle. Cavities form as a result of acids generated by the digestion of sugar by plaque bacteria. The two best ways to prevent decay are to limit sugar intake, especially in liquids, and to have excellent hygiene practices. Despite our best efforts, tooth decay still happens. If they are caught early, then a dentist can easily remove the decay and place a white resin filling.

When we first started with toothbrushes, I would take turns with my kids – they would gnaw on them while I encouraged them to brush, and then I would brush their teeth—just for a few seconds—back and forth. Now my kids use an electric brush for 30 seconds and then give me a turn for 30 seconds (it pulses to let us know when it’s time for my turn). We ‘play’ with flossers every once in awhile but haven’t added that to the routine in earnest yet—mostly because I’ve found my kids don’t yet have the fine motor skills needed to floss effectively on their own and because their teeth have pretty liberal gaps between them still.

What tricks and techniques have you used to get your kids to embrace taking care of their teeth? Have you found a dentist that your kids can’t wait to visit? If you’re looking for one in town, check out our list of dentists that we love!

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Mandy moved back to Nashville with her husband (Joe) to raise their kids a few years ago and is convinced it was one of the best decisions they've made. She loves setting off on adventures of all sorts, whether they be roadtrips to the coast, nature walks around their block in East Nashville, or camping with friends and family. Wherever she is, you will most likely find her with a book or two within arm's reach. Mandy stays at home with the boys and her baby girl and works as a grantwriter and general website whiz for small non-profits. A lover of spreadsheets and lists, she occasionally gets personal about personal finance, sharing challenges and strategies of efficiently managing a household, at her blog: Stay At Home Money Manager. You can email her directly at stayathomemoneymanager [AT] gmail [DOT] com.


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