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Oral Hygiene

Teaching your little ones to take care of themselves as they grow and learn is often one of the greatest rewards and challenges as a parent. Although good oral hygiene from an early age is important, many children are particularly resistant to brushing their teeth and flossing. If you are having a hard time getting your child to brush and floss regularly and adequately, you are certainly not alone. It takes a lot of time and consistency. 

Establishing good oral hygiene habits from an early age will aid in preventing cavities, disease, and several other health risks. Below are some tips for helping your children to develop healthy oral hygiene habits based on their ages. In general, it is important to brush twice a day at every age and to avoid sugary food and drinks. 

Be prepared to assist your child with brushing their teeth until they are 8 years old and with flossing until they are 10 years old. From ages 6-12, children lose their baby teeth and their grown-up teeth come in. This can be a source of both excitement and anxiety, so it is important to keep an open dialogue with your child about their teeth and to build consistent habits throughout this process. Finally, remember to bring your children to the dentist for check-ups every 6-12 months.

Tips To Help Your Kids Brush Their Teeth

Age Under 2

  • Start early. At 6 months old or as soon as the first tooth sprouts, begin to brush for them in the morning and at night.
  • For babies, you can try a silicone brush that fits over your fingertip. This can be more soothing for their teething gums.
  • Use about the size of a grain of rice of low-fluoridated toothpaste for children under 2.
  • Use a circular motion when brushing.
  • “Follow me” - Let children see you brush your own teeth and they can imitate as they watch you. You can also let them try to brush your teeth. 

Age 2-4

  • Make a big deal about the tooth brush! Your child may feel more excited about brushing if they get to pick a brush with their favorite colors or character. A brush that lights up could also do the trick. Let them make the choice they like. A soft-bristle brush with a small head is recommended.
  • Try different flavors of toothpaste and let the child choose the one they most enjoy.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and encourage them to spit and rinse at the end instead of swallowing the toothpaste.
  • Emphasize routine. In the morning, make brushing a regular part of getting dressed. Before bed, brushing can take place in line with other activities such as right after giving good night hugs to the family or right before reading a bedtime book. Teach early on that brushing every morning and evening is not optional, even if they do not want to do it.
  • Talk about the importance of brushing in a way your young ones can understand. For example, you can pretend the bacteria are tiny “sugar bugs” that need to be brushed and rinsed away so they don’t hurt by making a home (cavity) inside the teeth.
  • Cradle their chin in your hand as you brush their teeth. This will help them to feel more secure. You can also help them feel balanced by standing behind them to brush their teeth if you are both facing a mirror.
  • Continue spending time brushing teeth together with your children and let them watch how you do it. Watching you is one of the best ways for them to learn. 
  • Pair brushing with fun. You could sing a song or play music or a video for 2 mins while brushing.
  • Read books that talk about brushing teeth.
  • Play pretend - encourage your child to brush their doll’s teeth. No toothpaste required for this brushing!
  • Let them have the first turn to brush their teeth each time. Watch them and get the spots they missed when it’s your turn.
  • If you are still having trouble getting through the brushing routine, or if your child struggles with the sensory aspect, trying an electric toothbrush could be helpful. Some children find this to be a more calming sensation.

Age 5-10

  • Keep it up! Staying consistent in routine and helping your kids to brush well will reinforce the years of hard work you have already put in.
  • Avoid too much sugar. Soda, fruit juice, and other sweetened drinks should be avoided. If your child does have sugary snacks and drinks in between meals, have them brush their teeth after.
  • Set a timer. As your child does more of their own brushing, a timer can help them ensure they brush for a full two minutes. Finding a two minute song or video they enjoy can be a fun way to time their brushing.
  • When all else fails, rewards can work wonders. You might use stickers for example or even an extra 10 minutes of television.
  • For children who are mature enough, use visual aids to help demonstrate good brushing practices and to explain tooth decay and the process of getting a cavity filled. Some pictures you will find online can be overly shocking to a child, so be sure to pick and choose the images you show them rather than scrolling through image search results with them.
  • By age 6, most children are ready to transition to an adult toothpaste. This will have regular levels of fluoride, which should not be swallowed. For this reason, it is important to remind them to spit and rinse after brushing.
  • Remember to change your child’s toothbrush every 3-4 months or when the bristles become worn or frayed.
  • Gum can be safe and beneficial for older kids. However, try to give them only sugar-free gum or limit the amount of gum they chew if it does contain sugar.

Age 11+

  • Adolescence brings on added risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease due to hormonal changes. Help your child understand that while they have more independence with their oral care, it is important for them to continue with their good habits.
  • Stay on top of regular dentist visits. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adolescents in the United States have untreated tooth decay. As your child’s activity calendar fills up, keep regular dental checkups a priority.

Tips to Help Your Kids Floss their Teeth

The need for flossing starts as soon as two teeth touch each other. Flossing removes food that is stuck between teeth where brushing cannot reach. It is not important whether your child brushes or flosses first, but it should be a daily habit. It is also fine to floss in the morning or the evening. The best option is the one that works best for you and your child. For example, if your child becomes cranky and uncooperative around bedtime, perhaps establishing flossing as part of the morning routine will have a more successful outcome. Here are some more flossing tips based on different ages.

Age Under 2

  • Your child will not need to floss until they have two teeth that touch. For most children this is around age 2-3. 

Age 2-4

  • Floss for your child until they are ready to try. It can take years for a child to be able to floss on their own and each kid is different. 
  • Ask your dentist to demonstrate some methods for flossing. This could include the spool method (wrapping around the fingers), the loop method (tying the floss in a circle) or others.
  • Floss sticks can be an easier way for kids to start learning to floss on their own
  • Let your child choose the flavor of floss they prefer.

Age 5-10

  • By early-mid elementary school, kids are usually ready to floss on their own
  • If your child has mastered how to floss using sticks, they can move to regular floss

Age 11+

  • Give regular reminders. It is common for flossing to become an overlooked chore. However, giving reminders about the importance and benefits of flossing (such as controlling bad breath) can be helpful.
  • If your child has braces, they may use an oral irrigator to help keep them clean. However, an oral irrigator does not remove plaque and is not a substitute for flossing.

What About Fluoride?

Fluoride is important for dental health. It helps prevent cavities and hardens tooth enamel to make teeth stronger. However, it is not intended to be swallowed. Use low fluoride toothpaste for small children, encouraging them to spit and rinse after. By age 6, most children are ready for regular fluoride toothpaste.

How Often To Bring Your Child To See Dentist 

Regular dentist visits are an important part of maintaining good oral health. You will want to make sure you bring your child in for an exam and cleaning every 6-12 months starting around their first birthday. Regular dentist visits will not only contribute to a well cared-for mouth, but will also improve your child’s level of comfort with the dentist and getting regular checkups. Call Alligator Pediatric Dentistry today to make your child’s next appointment.