From babies to teenagers, practicing good dental hygiene is important for children of all ages. Parents play a critical role in developing these positive, healthy behaviors at a young age. Because February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, here are some tips to help keep your child’s teeth healthy and strong through the years. Also, learn about covered services that active duty family members enrolled in the TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) have.
Ages: 0–11 Months
It’s important to start good dental hygiene even before your baby’s first tooth comes in. Before teeth come in, you should gently wipe your baby’s gums with a soft, clean cloth twice a day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this helps remove the bacteria that can cause tooth decay. From four months of age and on, your child’s first teeth will start to grow. As soon as this happens, the CDC suggests that you brush teeth twice a day with a soft, small-bristled toothbrush and a smear of toothpaste.
You can begin to take your child for covered dental visits as soon as he or she reaches age 1 and is enrolled in the TDP. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends when children turn 1 year old, they see a dentist to spot signs of problems early. If you already have a family plan, your child will be automatically enrolled in TDP at no additional charge, upon turning age 1. If you don’t have a family plan, the child will be added at age 1 and your single plan will be changed to a family plan.
From ages 1 to 6, help your child brush his or her own teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. And make sure your child doesn’t swallow the toothpaste after brushing. If two teeth touch, you can also start helping your child floss daily to get loose food particles that may be stuck between teeth.
TDP covers two routine cleanings and two fluoride treatments during a consecutive 12-month period for children age 1 and older. You can learn more about TDP benefits in the TRICARE Dental Program Handbook. If you need to find a TDP dentist, use the Find a Dentist tool on the TDP website.
As children age, they’ll get more comfortable brushing and flossing alone and will start to lose their baby teeth. In this age range, it’s still important to monitor your child’s dental routine. Watch your child brush his or her teeth and help with those hard-to-reach places, especially in the back of the mouth.
Ask your dentist if dental sealants would be beneficial to help prevent cavities. According to the CDC, “children aged 6 to 11 years without sealants have almost three times more first molar cavities than children with sealants.” The TDP covers sealants for children through age 18. You can learn more about sealants in the TRICARE Dental Program Handbook.
Ages: 10 and Older
Ideally, when children are older than 10 years old, they’ll be confident handling their own dental routine. Between ages 12 and 13, check with your child’s dentist to make sure all permanent teeth are in place, except for wisdom teeth. The dentist should continue to monitor wisdom teeth growth as your child gets older.
Teaching your children healthy dental habits early on gets them used to a routine to follow. For more ways you can help protect your child’s teeth, check out the ADA and CDC websites. You can also find more dental health tips and information about TDP covered services on the TDP website.