How Early Can Kids Take Care of Their Oral Health? - Hardy Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics

How Early Can Kids Take Care of Their Oral Health?

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Published on April 6, 2018, Updated on April 6, 2018

Little girl brushing her teeth

With infants, parents will have to take care of their child’s oral health for quite some time, but not forever. Eventually children need to learn how to take care of their oral health and why it’s important. It’s possible to teach very tiny children great oral health habits that they can take with them as they grow. Going about it the right way can instill in them the importance of why taking care of their teeth is a habit they must have. Find out how to get children started on their own oral health routine early and what they need to do as they grow!

The Importance of Oral Health

When you think of chronic diseases, you probably don’t think of tooth decay. However, the National Institutes of Health reports that tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in children and adults. Studies show that not only are children brushing and flossing less, but even adults are. Only 65% of adults see a dentist each year and many adults don’t brush or floss during the day. Some can’t even remember the last time they flossed. Those type of oral health habits get passed on to children.

Studies show that 42% of children have tooth decay in their baby teeth. Even though a child will eventually have their baby teeth fall out, you never want them to fall out prematurely. When it comes to oral health, get your kids started with proper hygiene habits as soon as possible.

Mother helping her 2 children to brush and floss their teeth

Teaching Children to Brush

Infants can’t take care of their oral health for quite some time. You will have to take care of it for them until they are between ages 2 and 4 and can hold a toothbrush correctly. Once children have enough dexterity to brush, they can start doing it on their own. You can help them be familiar with a toothbrush as an infant when you brush their teeth. As soon as the first tooth pops through in an infant’s mouth, make sure you brush that tooth at least twice a day. If your child is excited and wants to hold the brush themselves, let them. Help them to learn the back-and-forth motion until they have acquired the skill. Many children can do this around age 3 with a child toothbrush.

When brushing, children don’t always measure time like we do. Brushing for 2 minutes seems like a long time. Make that time shorter by having them brush their teeth during the duration of a song or for as long as you brush your teeth (which should be 2 minutes). Teach them to always put a pea-sized amount of toothbrush on a brush. Hold their hands as they learn to squeeze out toothpaste on their toothbrush until they get the hang of it. Wet the brush before brushing the teeth either before or after adding the toothpaste. Important points for brushing include:

  • Brushing every single tooth, front and back.
  • Change directions of the toothbrush and brush at different angles.
  • Always brush with toothpaste, and not other substances.
  • Rinse with water and spit toothpaste out; don’t swallow it.

Teaching Children to Floss

Flossing is a bit harder for children, so using flossers might be a smart choice for very young children. Your little one only needs to floss when the teeth get too close for the toothbrush to go between them easily. Use flossers and help children place the flossers in between the teeth, moving them back and forth to dislodge food. Show them how regular floss works and how to wind it around their hands until they learn how to do it. You will have to help them floss until they have the motor skills to do both flossers and regular floss. Teach them to always use clean, new floss each time and to floss at least once a day. Toddlers will need help flossing, but older children (around age 6 or so) generally have the skills to floss using regular floss. Supervise them and teach them until they can do it correctly on their own.

Little girl brushing her teeth

Other Essential Information for Good Oral Health

Brushing and flossing are not the only habits that children need to be aware of to have good oral health. These are the two most essential, but there are other smart recommendations that will help them keep a smile such as:

  • Children need to see the dentist twice a year, just like a adults do. This is a time when a dentist can look at their teeth and make sure there aren’t cavities.
  • Sugar causes tooth decay. Sugars from food mix with bacteria in the mouth and make plaque. The more sugar they eat, the more plaque they have as well as cavities.
  • Toothbrushes need to be switched out every 3 months or whenever a toothbrush is frayed—even for child toothbrushes.
  • Children need to make sure to brush their tongue when they brush their teeth. The tongue has lots of bacteria on it that can cause cavities.
  • Once a child has brushed their teeth at night, make sure they don’t eat more without brushing again. If they eat at night without brushing, bacteria have all night to decay their teeth.

Parents Help Children

Parents are essential for helping their children learn how to brush and floss from the time they are small. Have them brush their teeth with you and go to the dentist the same day as you. Teach them about healthy eating and that limiting sugar isn’t a punishment, but will actually help them be happier and healthier. Make sure you take a few minutes to help your child have good oral health. Over time, they will learn that from your example and will also have the skills to care for their teeth as well. For all your questions about getting started with brushing and flossing, call Hardy Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics at (720) 887-6003!