Good dental hygiene is important and since habits formed in childhood often stay put all throughout life, smart parents begin teaching their children to take care of their teeth from a very young age. Even baby teeth need daily care and attention.
Care for your baby’s first teeth. While those first few teeth don’t require brushing and flossing, they should be wiped clean after feedings with a damp washcloth or piece of gauze. Additionally, babies should never be put to bed with bottles of milk or juice since the presence of these liquids sitting in a child’s mouth as they sleep can promote decay. It is far better to lay your baby down with a bottle of plain water or a pacifier that is dentist-approved.
Supervise little ones as they brush. Kids don’t typically brush thoroughly until they are at least six, so parents should be on hand to help younger children with their dental hygiene. By providing both instruction and encouragement, you can help your children to take pride in their big, bright smiles!
Choose the right brush. Children’s toothbrushes should have soft bristles and be sized for their small mouths. With the wide assortment of colorful brushes available at stores, there are sure to be some that appeal to every child.
Understand the importance of fluoride. Most dentists recommend that children brush with a good quality fluoride toothpaste, and some may also advise in-office fluoride treatments for further protection. Toothpaste is now available in a nice variety of kid-friendly flavors, sure to please even the pickiest children.
Don’t use too much toothpaste. Children need only a small amount of toothpaste – about a pea-sized dab will do. Too much increases the chances that your child will swallow toothpaste, which should be avoided.
Set a timer. Most kids (and adults, too!) tend to finish brushing their teeth in less than a minute, yet dentists recommend 2-3 minutes in order to be sure that all teeth get properly cleaned. By setting a timer, kids get used to brushing thoroughly. A good alternative to a timer is to play music while brushing – typically brushing teeth for the length of a song is about right.
Practice good form. Holding the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle to the gum line, brush each of your child’s teeth in a gentle, circular motion, being sure to brush the front, back, and chewing surfaces of each tooth. It can help to start on one side and work your way to the other, one tooth at a time, to be sure that no teeth are ignored in the cleaning process.
Clean your child’s tongue and the insides of the cheeks, too. For an overall healthy mouth and fresh smelling breath, gently brush your child’s tongue. Many dentists also recommend brushing the inside surfaces of the cheeks.
Let your child help. The goal is to teach your children to take good care of their teeth independently, so kids (even toddlers) should be encouraged to brush their own teeth. Until you’re sure that your kids are doing a good job, though, you’ll need to follow up by brushing and flossing your kids’ teeth after they’ve taken their turn.
Don’t forget to floss. Routine flossing should be started as soon as children have two teeth that touch one another. Flossing helps to remove plaque and food particles that, if left undisturbed, can cause tooth decay. Flossing can be tricky for kids to master and most need help until they are eight or nine, but it’s an important habit to establish. If your kids have a hard time maneuvering traditional dental floss, you might want to try a dental flosser, which has a long handle much like a toothbrush.
Healthy teeth and gums are an important part of overall good health, so parents are wise to help their children to establish good tooth brushing habits young. Be sure that they brush at least twice a day -- morning and before bedtime -- but it’s even better if they learn to brush after meals, as well. In addition to brushing and flossing regularly, kids should visit a pediatric dentist by their first birthdays, and twice a year after that for routine check-ups and professional cleanings.