Oral hygiene is so important for everyone but it is especially important for children. During their formative years, children experience a lot of growth and development, not only physically, but also mentally. These are the years in which habits become cemented and the more you, as their parent, are able to teach your children how to maintain the health of their teeth, the more it will stick with them for life. Here are some tips on how to brush and floss your child’s teeth.
Newborn Babies and Infants
Oral hygiene actually begins with babies and infants. This may seem strange, particularly since babies don’t even have teeth until at least 4 months (average 6 months) old, but it is important to allow babies to get used to the sensation of having their mouths cleaned after meals. This is so they won’t feel confused or distressed when they do have to start brushing their teeth and they won’t fight you helping them brush their teeth.
Encourage brushing (and later on, flossing) after every meal. To clean a baby’s mouth, wrap your finger with a wetted soft cloth and wipe their gums.
Later on, when teeth do start erupting into the mouth, use a children’s toothbrush (i.e. soft bristles and a small head) to brush your infant’s teeth. Place your baby in a secure position (e.g. on your lap). Support their head by wrapping your arm behind their head and cupping their chin. Gently open their mouth and brush their existing tooth/teeth as well as massage their gums with the toothbrush in a soft, circular motion.
The key word here is “gentleness” – the less painful, distressing, or traumatic the experience, the less your child will resist. You don’t need to use toothpaste until your child is able to spit out the toothpaste so in the meantime, you can just use water to wet the toothbrush bristles.
Believe it or not, flossing is needed once there are two or more adjacent teeth that have erupted from the gums. This is because toothbrushes cannot be cleaned in between teeth. Baby teeth should be flossed daily. Run the floss up and down the side of each tooth to be effective in your flossing technique. You may find it to be too difficult for your adult hands to fit into your baby’s mouth. If that is the case, you may opt to use flosser picks/dental sticks. These are not ideal the older a person becomes but it may be a reasonable compromise for your child from infancy to young childhood.
So it’s not so much a question of why, it’s more a question of “why is it so difficult to brush my toddler’s teeth?” A lot of parents find it incredibly challenging to brush their toddler’s teeth, especially when toddlers are of the age where they can run, kick, and flail. It seems like the hassle is just not worth it… until your toddler starts crying because the holes and decay in their teeth are causing them a lot of pain and then they’ll need to get fillings in their baby teeth. Poor oral hygiene for your toddler could also result in discoloured teeth, bad breath, and other potential lifelong problems.
Continue to brush your toddler’s teeth with a children’s toothbrush and a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Encourage your toddler to then spit out the toothpaste once brushing is completed (instead of swallowing it) and rinse their mouth. Floss their teeth after they rinse. Several ways to combat resistance can include strategies such as:
- Using bright, colourful toothbrushes that have their favourite cartoon characters;
- Making brushing and flossing into a game and providing (non-food-related) incentives;
- Playing a song during brushing as a form of distraction (your child should brush their teeth for two minutes, so a song that lasts for that long will be ideal); and
- Leading by example whereby you brush your teeth first to show that it’s normal and then you can help your toddler brush their teeth.
Children’s manual dexterity does not mature until (on average) nine years old. As a result, you will still need to help your children brush their teeth until they are nine or 10 years old. Children at around six years old get their first adult/permanent teeth (i.e. the first molars as well as their front central incisors). The first molars are generally the ones that need large fillings, root canal therapy or extraction later on because they are not cared for in childhood. So it is very important for you to help your child brush and floss while they are still younger than nine years old.
You can encourage your child to take a more proactive approach to their oral hygiene by teaching them to brush and floss their teeth first, and then you can go over their teeth again afterwards. Your child can use a children’s electric toothbrush as long as they have soft bristles with a “gentle motion” setting. Otherwise, keep using soft-bristled children’s manual toothbrushes. Flosser picks/dental sticks are still an option but as the child grows older, it is important to start encouraging them to use regular floss. Ask your dentist to demonstrate the correct flossing technique to your child if they are unsure.
Healthy oral hygiene is so important for a person’s well-being, and what better time to instil the healthy habit into your child than when they are young. Encourage your child to keep their happy smile for their whole life.