February is Children's Dental Health Month. With decay and cavities on the rise, here are some essential tips for keeping your children's teeth and gums healthy.

Reading the article Preschoolers in Surgery for a Mouthful of Cavities, in the New York Times in 2012, opened my eyes to the rise of dental decay for otherwise healthy children. Family life is incredibly hectic, especially around bedtime, but prioritizing dental hygiene is a must. Since February is Children's Dental Health Month, below are some of my dental care hacks, as well as tips from our friends at Great Expressions Dental Centers, for parents to help keep their children's teeth and gums healthy:

Keep gums clean from the get-go

Your child may not even have teeth yet, but it’s critical to keep gums healthy for proper development of future teeth. Gently wipe the gums with a clean baby washcloth and gently brush with a soft baby toothbrush once you see the first tooth. For older children, use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush teeth.

Bottle-less bedtime

A common mistake is to give a baby a bottle in his/her crib or bed. Not only does it overload the teeth with sugar, it can be a choking hazard. Instead, provide your child with a bottle prior to putting them to sleep and wiping their teeth with a soft baby toothbrush before their head hits the pillow. For older children, make sure they avoid sugary drinks like soda or juice packs right before bedtime (for other reasons as well!).

Character toothbrushes & toothpaste

There's a reason they put Elmo on toothbrushes...it works. My kids act like they've received a new toy when they get a fun new toothbrush and watermelon-flavored toothpaste. It's an added incentive to good oral hygiene. I let them pick out new brushes, paste, mouthwash and picks every month or so. 

Prevent fear of the dentist

It’s recommended that children visit the dentist twice a year to keep teeth as healthy as possible. Because many children fear the dentist, it’s important for parents to make the process stress-free for their kids. Find a dentist and office that jives with your child(ren). They should look forward to going! GEDC recommends using music, a favorite stuffed animal and educating children on dental visits with a children’s book prior to the visit. Doing this from an early age will minimize, if not eliminate stress, ultimately making trips to the dentist less stressful for the remainder of their lives. Our nursery school arranges visits from the dentist each year so children know what to expect and see that going to the dentist is cool!

Lead by example

Chances are, if you take good care of yourself and see doctors regularly, exposing your children to good habits, they'll want to follow in your foot steps. If you've put off self-care to care for your family, make it one of this year's resolutions to schedule necessary appointments and lead by example!