Teaching your children not only the ins and outs but how to appreciate the importance of oral hygiene can go a long way, and will benefit them from the moment their very first tooth appears to the time their full, adult smile has been formed.
It’s important to introduce oral health routines at a very early age, even before their first tooth pops, and starts by reinforcing positive habits. A habit built at a young age can be a strong ally in overall health, and will help your child grow into a healthy adult.
To get a taste of how important building oral health habits really is, a recent Australian survey on nutrition showed that more than one-fifth of children today are overweight or obese, and can develop long-term health conditions when they become adults. The numbers are similar—and actually even more pronounced—right here in Texas.
Aside from other factors, the lack of proper application of healthy eating habits at a young age has shown to contribute to this figure (Life Education Australia).
When it comes to oral health, by devoting time to teach your children about when and how they should brush their teeth, your kids get used to this daily routine and can more easily keep it up into adulthood.
And although many parents forget it, oral health is also hugely important for baby teeth. Your child’s first teeth may not be permanent, but they can cause troubles in chewing and speaking clearly if they are not kept healthy, and even inhibit the healthy formation and growth of adult teeth. As a result, caring for baby teeth is as important as it is for permanent teeth in adults.
Before digging into our easy-to-follow guidelines about proper brushing techniques based on a child’s age, it’s very important for parents to understand that they should be present throughout this whole teaching journey as a positive influence for their children. Because, in order to fuel a habit, you’ll have an easier way to establish healthy routines early after devoting the time to teach children in all sort of creative ways!
Ages 0 – 2
Good oral health starts even before your baby’s first teeth appear. Teeth begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy, and by the time of birth, your baby has 20 primary teeth already formed in his or her jaw. And even before your children start teething, you need to start getting them use to the overall sensations associated with oral hygiene. At this stage, running a soft, wet washcloth over a baby’s gums after meals and at bedtime to clear away harmful bacteria is the #1 recommended practice.
You can start to clean babies’ teeth as soon as their first tooth appears. At this time, gums are very sensitive, so be sure to choose a toothbrush with soft bristles specifically designed for babies, not a toothbrush for older kids. In addition, the amount of fluoride toothpaste should be the size of a grain of rice (NHS, ADA).
Finally, your approach in all-things dental should always be very gentle. At this age, the most important thing is habit formation. So, use a gentle, wiggle motion to brush and aim for all three surfaces of the teeth: outer, inner, and chewing surfaces. Also, aim for gums by turning the toothbrush to a 45-degree angle.
At this stage, it’s up to you to make brushing a fun experience for your child and fuel this positive habit. So, take your time (2 to 5 minutes), and be creative. Make brushing a game, or brush your own teeth at the same time and then help your child finish their own. In addition, brushing in front of a mirror may help the process because your little one will see what’s happening, plus it makes it easier for songs, dance and games!
From a certain age, your child may ask about brushing teeth on his or her own. This is a great sign, and you should allow children to give it a go, because it reveals that they’re getting familiar with the process. But always be there to step in and help.
The last tip for this age is to ditch the toothpaste, if necessary. Toothpaste can make things complicated for some children, especially at a very young age, because the taste of toothpaste takes a little getting used to and children furthermore haven’t developed the muscles to spit excess out well. Remember, at this stage it’s all about fueling familiarity with good dental habits.
Ages 2 – 8
If you’ve managed to get your child brushing teeth twice day until the age of two, well done! It’s now time for your child to brush for themselves. However, you’ll still need to get in there to finish the job. In fact, you should be there every time until your child reaches the age of seven.
Children are not born good brushers, and proper technique takes years of brushing and guidance. So, your mission in this stage is to allow your kid to take the initiative, but also to be there to help get good brushing in every time.
At this age, the toothbrush should still have soft bristles, because gums are still sensitive and, provided that your child is starting to brush on its own, you want to make sure that no damage is accidentally done due to developing technique. In addition, the amount of fluoride toothpaste should increase to the size of a pea.
At this age, games, songs, dances, stories and any other creative method you think of are even more important. Although your child has strengthened the habit of oral health, there’s still plenty to be taught. At this stage, you can also let your child pick out a toothbrush they like. There are plenty of colorful and fun designs that your children will love, and the power of choice will also contribute to making brushing a fun experience. Just make sure they have the proper toothbrush size for kids and soft bristles.
At this age, your child becomes independent and is able to brush its teeth all by him or herself! The only thing you need to do at this age is step in for periodic supervision. You want to make sure your kids brush properly, two times a day for at least two minutes. Although your child probably knows proper brushing techniques and has built a habit by now, maintaining this habit until adulthood is not guaranteed without giving oral hygiene its due attention.
Building the happy and healthy habit of oral hygiene even before their first tooth appears can bring great benefits to adult health, and your child will live fuller for it. Arm yourself with patience and creativity, and you’ll get there! And if you need help along the way, ask your dentist. And whether you’re already a patient of Dr. Marchbanks or not, by getting in touch or by visiting us at our Arlington, TX office, we’ll be happy to help!