Brushing and Flossing Children's Teeth
In children, teeth should be cleaned as soon as they emerge. By starting early, your baby gets used to the daily routine. A soft washcloth wrapped around your finger can substitute for a brush when teeth first appear. Ask your dentist when you should switch to a toothbrush. Some dentists suggest waiting until four teeth in a row have come out; others recommend waiting until the child is 2 or 3 years old.
Click here for an animated demonstration on the proper way to brush.
Here are some tips for taking care of your child’s teeth:
- Choose a small, child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush. Soaking the brush in warm water for a few minutes before brushing can soften the bristles even more.
- Many dentists recommend using only plain water for brushing up to the age of 2. This is because young children swallow toothpaste and swallowing too much fluoride may lead to tooth discoloration in permanent teeth. Ask your dentist if toothpaste should be used. Also, check the manufacturer's label; some toothpastes are not recommended in children under age 6. If a toothpaste is to be used, squeeze out about a green pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste onto the toothbrush.
- Brush your child's teeth twice a day – in the morning and just before bed. Spend 2 minutes brushing, concentrating a good portion of this time on the back molars. This is an area where cavities often first develop.
- Replace the toothbrush every 3 or 4 months, or sooner if it shows signs of wear. Never share a toothbrush with others.
- Start flossing your child's teeth once a day as soon as two teeth emerge that touch. The use of floss sticks or picks instead of regular string floss may be easier for both you and your child.
- Ask your dentist about your child's fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants. These are thin, plastic protective barriers that fill in the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, protecting them from tooth decay.
When Should Children Brush and Floss on Their Own?
Most children lack the coordination to brush or floss their teeth on their own until about the age of 6 or 7. Up until this time, remember that the best way to teach children how to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Allowing your child to watch you brush your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene.
How Safe Is Fluoride for My Child?
Fluoride is safe for children. Fluoride is a natural mineral that protects and strengthens the teeth against the formation of cavities. Using it early in your child's life will provide extra protection for developing teeth. Find out if your tap water contains fluoride by calling your local water authority. If your tap water does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist if you should give your child a fluoride supplement.