Advancing Children's Health

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Time to Brush Up: 11 Healthy Dental Habits for Children

Published by , on Feb 27, 2015

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Now is a great time to “brush up” on the important tips our specialists recommend for proper dental care for children. Your dental health matters too. From daily brushing and flossing to keeping up with regular visits to your dentist, always set a good example with your own dental care habits!

1. The magic number is “2.” Be sure your children brush 2 times a day for 2 minutes (or that you help them brush for this amount of time).

11 dental tips2. Brushing with a toothbrush begins when a child’s first tooth emerges in the mouth and all children should use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Parents should use a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste to brush baby teeth twice daily as soon as they erupt, instead of waiting until children are older to prevent tooth decay, according to new guidelines by the American Dental Association. Swallowing chunks of toothpaste can cause mild fluorosis (white spots or streaks on permanent teeth) which is why using only a smear is important. On average, the first permanent teeth begin appearing in the mouth between 5 and 6 years of age, and children can begin to use more of a pea-sized amount of toothpaste as they are able to it spit out.

3. When choosing toothpaste, be sure it contains fluoride and has the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. There are many toothpaste flavors other than mint on the market, including cinnamon and vanilla, and children may enjoy picking out their own.

4. It is recommended that a child’s first dental visit be at 1 year of age: Get It Done In Year One! The first visit to the dentist at age one is so important for many reasons. It provides the child and parent the right anticipatory guidance and prevention according to the child’s developmental milestones. It’s just like a well-baby visit – but focused on the important oral health milestones your child will have – and preventive tips for brushing, diet, pacifier and thumb habits, in additional to dental development and trauma are provided. A visit at age one is also the better way to make your child comfortable and not afraid of going to the dentist.

5. Toothbrushes with soft bristles are recommended for all ages (including adults) to prevent toothbrush abrasion (wear of the tooth surface due to brushing with excessive force or a hard toothbrush). Usually by the teen years, a child is ready for an adult-size brush as most permanent teeth are in by this time. Many companies have toothbrushes that are graded in stages (2-4 years, 5-7 years, etc.) or sized for youth and adult. Fat handles and specially sized /designed handles work better for children who have difficulty maneuvering a toothbrush.

6. Minimize bacteria buildup on toothbrushes by teaching children to rinse the toothbrush with water after each use and let it air dry. Family members should not share toothbrushes and brushes need to be replaced every three months or when bristles become frayed. It is also important to discard toothbrushes after an illness or infection.

7. Parents should help or watch over a child’s brushing until the child is at least 8 years old. Due to underdeveloped motor skills, young children are not able effectively brush their own teeth. Allow your child to practice brushing, but brush after your child until he or she develops the skills and coordination needed to reach and clean all surfaces of the teeth and gums.

8. Oral hygiene (the practice of keeping the mouth clean and healthy) should begin before a child’s first tooth comes in. Infants should have their gums wiped after having a bottle or nursing. Pre-toothbrush cotton finger cloths and rubber finger rings that fit over an adult finger are available for this purpose. A clean cotton pad, bib or washcloth can also be used for wiping.

9. Be sure the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of teeth are brushed consistently. To brush the outside surfaces of a child’s teeth, have the child close their mouth and pull cheeks back. To brush the chewing surfaces, have the child open wide. Have the child lift their tongue to the roof of the mouth for brushing the inside surfaces of the bottom teeth, then lower the tongue to brush the inside surfaces on the top teeth. Use a circular motion so that the gums are cleansed as well.

10. Flossing should be done DAILY and is best done right before bed. Flossing is essential for removing bacterial plaque that causes decay between teeth. (Toothbrushes are not designed to remove plaque in this area.) Toddlers and young children should use flossers or floss picks, which are plastic handles pre-threaded with floss. Flossing regularly becomes even more important when a child’s teeth start touching, but it is best to start flossing before teeth start touching to help the child get used to it.

11. Know what dental care products are appropriate for your child’s age. For children over the age of 6, there are rinses designed for before and after brushing. The before-brushing rinse tints the teeth a color which demonstrates the tooth surfaces to children so they can improve their brushing. Rinses used after brushing include anti-cavity rinses and mouthwashes. Anti-cavity rinses are fluoride rinses that may be recommended by a dentist for children over age 6. Teenagers may also use a mouthwash for breath freshening, and some mouthwashes on the market today also include additives to help reduce plaque and gingivitis (gum disease).

Keep in mind that children love to copy grownup behavior. If possible, brush your own teeth while your children practice brushing theirs. This time together can be a great opportunity for you to model the healthy dental habits listed above. It can also make your family’s daily brushing, flossing and rinsing routine a more enjoyable experience for all.

Contributors: Dr. Elizabeth Bortell, Dr. Tegwyn Brickhouse, Dr. Robert J. Laughlin

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