Parents have a great deal of responsibility in teaching their children the values and behaviors they’ll need to become responsible adults themselves. Although it may not immediately come to mind, instilling good oral hygiene habits in your child is a process that’s essential to establishing good oral health for a lifetime! Knowing the right time to begin each step will encourage your child to follow your lead so that taking over on their own will be second nature.
Should you wonder if being aware of your child’s oral health is necessary at such an early age, the answer is a resounding yes! According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of children ages six to eight have had a cavity in at least one of their baby (primary) teeth, and about 20% of children between the ages of five to 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
When to Start Cleaning Your Baby’s Teeth
First things first! The time to start cleaning your baby’s teeth is before their primary teeth erupt. According to Innovative Pediatric Dentistry, “Good dental hygiene should start when your child is still an infant. Once your baby is finished eating, whether breast milk or formula, wipe down their gums using a moist washcloth. While, of course, at this stage, you’re not necessarily teaching a child how to practice good oral hygiene, you are getting into a routine and establishing the foundation, which will make it easier when they get older.”
Actually, this is an important point! Experienced parents know that kids can be squirmy and uncooperative when you insist they do something new — or something they don’t want to do, like go to bed on time or eat their veggies. Very young children can’t be expected to fully understand the concept of tooth decay, and how regular brushing helps prevent it. Getting your child accustomed to paying attention to their mouth can go a long way in avoiding struggles when they’re expected to brush at least twice daily.
Once teething starts, graduate to a finger toothbrush. This brush is made of rubber, has soft bristles and slips on to the index finger. Gently rub the finger brush along your baby’s gum line and around the emerging teeth. When the first tooth fully erupts, use the finger brush or a soft-bristle infant-sized toothbrush. Apply a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste — no larger than a grain of rice — to brush twice a day. Most babies develop teeth between ages six and 12 months, with the full set of primary teeth erupted by age three.
At age three, you can start introducing your child to the basics of good oral hygiene. The key is to start slowly and reinforce a regular routine. Instead of making it look like a chore, making brushing look like a fun activity can be a good way to get your child to not only cooperate, but be enthusiastic about it!
How to Get Your Child Excited About Brushing
We all know how difficult it can be to get a toddler’s energy to focus on one activity day in and day out. Just like tying shoes or cleaning up their toys after they are done with playtime, you need to figure out a playful way to incorporate the habit of oral hygiene into your child’s life. The following suggestions are courtesy of Colgate, Metro East Dental Care and Innovative Pediatric Dentistry.
Involve them in the initial process — Give your child a “buy-in” by taking them shopping for a toothbrush, and let them make the choice. Having a toothbrush that lets your child express their interest – be it a superhero, princess or favorite cartoon/movie character – will make the brushing experience more fun and personal. They’ll also enjoy feeling special because they were allowed to select the toothbrush they liked the best!
Teach them the right technique — It is important to teach your child the right way to take care of their teeth. During the initial years, you may need to brush their teeth for them, letting them get used to the technique and routine. Once they are comfortable with holding the toothbrush themselves, teach them what angle to brush at (45° angle toward the gumline in a back and forth motion) and how long to brush for. Even when they learn to do it themselves, it is advisable to supervise until they’re about eight years old. Reading them books and showing them videos on good oral hygiene methods can also help in piquing their interest.
Find the right time — With kids, it is more about getting the time right for instilling good habits. Try to set a routine that works best with your routine and your child’s energy levels. This can be a method of trial and error. The most common times are right before breakfast and a little before putting them to bed. Lead the way to the sink and have your child follow you to fall into a pattern of good oral hygiene!
Add on fun activities — Children dislike being bored. So make brushing and flossing a fun activity you can share with your child. This will not only make them want to brush their teeth, but also make them stick to oral hygiene as a routine. You can invent fun little stories — like the germs are the bad guys inside their mouth that can only be defeated by the superhero in the form of their favorite toothbrush. Setting a timer and challenging your child to complete brushing before the clock runs can also get them enthusiastic about the activity.
Combine it with rewards — Make sure that your child knows that they are appreciated for doing their oral hygiene routine well. During the initial days when your child is learning the basics, associate brushing with a reward system. You can give them some extra time before bed to watch their favorite cartoon or give them their favorite toy to play with each time they brush well. This will build an environment of positive reinforcement and encourage your child to repeat the activity of practicing good oral hygiene regularly.
Practice what you preach — It will be very hard to get your child to stick to taking care of their teeth and gums if they do not see you doing the same. Kids absorb behavioral patterns like a sponge. Therefore, always remember to lead by example. Try to sync your own nighttime oral care routine with your child’s. Brush together and tell them more about oral hygiene practices. This way, they will understand that it is an activity that you practice seriously and will be more inclined to follow through each day.
A few words about flossing — Brushing should always be followed with flossing. In the case of young children, it isn’t necessary to begin until their teeth start to fit closely together. According to Pediatric Dentistry of Central Iowa, most will be able to start flossing between the ages of two and six, but make sure to keep a close eye on your child’s teeth as more grow in so you know when you need to start flossing regularly! If your child is on the younger side, you will need to floss for them until they’re old enough to learn how to floss themselves with your help. Even after your child is physically capable of flossing their own teeth, you should continue to supervise and help out until they are around the age of 10 so that you can be sure they are flossing thoroughly and getting the areas between each tooth every time they floss.
When to Schedule Your Child’s First Visit to the Dentist
Apart from regular brushing at home, it is crucial to get your child under the care of a good dentist to build a lifelong commitment to oral health. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a child’s first visit should be when the first tooth erupts in the mouth — no later than age one. According to the ADA, a baby can get cavities as soon as he or she has teeth.
Just as you, hopefully, choose your dentist carefully, so you should choose a dentist who specializes in or also practices pediatric dentistry. Our blog post — “What is Pediatric Dentistry?” – covers this topic in detail.
While a general dentist provides care and oral health advice for adults, a pediatric dentist not only treats patients but educates parents so they can reinforce positive oral care habits in their children. A pediatric dentist also can recognize early signs of trouble — such as tooth decay — and monitor primary teeth as they emerge to ensure they’re growing in properly positioned (and recommend orthodontic intervention if they’re not).
Another important advantage to a pediatric dentist is the additional education and residency training they receive to treat infants, children, teens and children with special needs. They receive instruction in child psychology — allowing them to appropriately address the emotions and energies that children bring to the chair so that the young patient is calm and cooperates with treatment. Dental phobias beginning in childhood often continue into adulthood, so it’s important that children have a positive experience!
We believe that one of the many advantages NK Family Dental offers is that we are able to treat every member of your family under one roof, at every stage of life. The child you trust to our care from that first appointment can continue here through the teen years to adulthood, always treated by compassionate professionals.
It is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.