Creating a fun, effective dental routine for children can be a challenge, but the sooner we can establish this routine, the easier it can be. As adults, we know what a proper dental routine looks like and how often to go to the dentist, but is it the same for children? We will explore some tips and tricks on how to make oral health a priority from the get go.
The process begins shortly after your baby is born. Cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth stimulates the gum tissue and wipes sugars found in breast milk or formula away from the gums. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. A baby’s front four teeth usually push through the gums at about 6 months of age, although some children don’t have their first tooth until 12 or 14 months.
Continue to brush your child’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste until your child can legibly write their name in cursive. If you want to give your child more autonomy, let them brush themselves and then go back in and do a “quick sweep” to make sure there are no missed areas. When your child has two teeth that touch, begin cleaning between their teeth daily.
For children younger than 3 years, caregivers should begin brushing children’s teeth as soon as they begin to come into the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician.
For children 3 to 6 years of age, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician.
Make Brushing Fun
Don’t just set a timer and supervise – make brushing twice a day for two minutes an event! Crank up your child’s favorite song and have a two-minute dance party. Videos or brushing apps may also make that time fly by. Try reading a 2-minute story using all your best voices. Whatever you do, get creative and switch things up so brushing time is always a good time.
Start a Routine and Stick to It
You may be tempted to let your child skip brushing after a long day or during times when your normal schedule is off (like vacation), but keep at it. The more second nature brushing becomes, the easier it will be to make sure your child is brushing twice a day for two minutes.
Reward Good Brushing Behavior
What motivates your child? If it’s stickers, make a reward chart and let him add one every time he brushes. If he’s a reader, let him pick out the bedtime story. Maybe it’s as simple as asking to see that healthy smile, saying “I’m so proud of you” and following up with a huge high five.
Let your child pick out his own toothbrush and toothpaste (I recommend ones with the ADA Seal of Acceptance.) Choosing a character toothbrush might make brushing more fun, and fluoride toothpastes come in a variety of flavors and colors.
Make Brushing a Family Affair
Your children learn from you, so set a good example. The family that brushes together has even more reason to smile.
And in case you didn’t know the proper brushing technique for yourself and for your children is to:
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums.
- Gently move the brush back and forth in short (tooth-wide) strokes.
- Brush the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- To clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes.
First Dental Visit
As soon as your child’s first tooth appears, it’s time to schedule a dental visit. The ADA recommends that the first dental visit take place within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than a child’s first birthday. Don’t wait for them to start school or until there’s an emergency. Get your child comfortable today with healthy habits.
Although the first visit is mainly for the dentist to examine your child’s mouth and to check growth and development, it’s also about your child being comfortable. To make the visit positive:
- Consider making a morning appointment when children tend to be rested and cooperative.
- Keep any anxiety or concerns you have to yourself. Children can pick up on your emotions, so emphasize the positive.
- Never use a dental visit as a punishment or threat.
- Never bribe your child.
- Talk with your child about visiting the dentist.
Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in all water sources, including oceans, rivers and lakes. Fluoride is also added to some community tap water, toothpastes and mouth rinses. Infants and toddlers who do not receive an adequate amount of fluoride may be at an increased risk for tooth decay since fluoride helps make tooth enamel more resistant to decay. It also helps repair weakened enamel. Bottled water may not contain fluoride; therefore, children who regularly drink bottled water or unfluoridated tap water may be missing the benefits of fluoride. If you are not sure if your tap water has fluoride, contact your local or state health department or water supplier.
Discuss your child’s fluoride needs with your dentist or pediatrician. They may recommend a fluoride supplement if you live in an area where the community water is not fluoridated.
Chelsea Wells is a dental hygienist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.