Dental care is an important wellness skill to learn from a young age. Without possessing the proper knowledge and technique of caring for their teeth, your child risks enamel breakdown and tooth decay even at a young age. But when is best to begin teaching your child proper dental care?
Start At Infancy
Most dentists recommend beginning to care for your child’s teeth before teething even begins. You can do this by running a damp cloth or gauze pad over their gums to clear away harmful bacteria.
When your child’s teeth begin to grow in, start using an infant toothbrush or a damp cloth and a rice grain-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste to clean their teeth. This small amount is perfect for the number and size of teeth your baby has, but it also helps minimize how much toothpaste your baby will swallow. Also, avoid giving your child a bottle at bedtime, as the sticky sugars present in juice, milk and formula will stick to their teeth and erode enamel (often known as “bottle mouth”). As a result, babies who fall asleep with their bottle are at a much higher risk of early cavities and tooth decay.
When your child has two or more teeth that are right next to each other, begin to regularly floss them. At this time, however, don’t bother with getting your child to rinse, as this is not something he or she will have the proper motor function for yet. Also, getting them to swallow water immediately after brushing will only cause them to swallow the toothpaste. Doctors advise these habits not only to keep your child’s mouth healthy, but to get them used to the sensation and habit of tooth cleaning even before they can do it themselves.
By your child’s first birthday, schedule a dentist appointment to examine their mouth for the first time and get advice from your dentist on proper child dental hygiene. This will also begin to acclimate your child to visiting the dentist so he or she will not be scared of dentist appointments. You may even want to consider taking your baby to see a pediatric dentist, who will be specifically trained in caring for your little one’s teeth.
Begin Teaching Brushing
Around age 2, you can begin teaching your child how to brush properly and how to spit. However, don’t teach rinsing or swishing until about the age of 5 when their toothbrushing motor skills are more developed. Your dentist can recommend a good time to begin teaching that. At age 3, you can begin to use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste for brushing your child’s teeth. Always supervise them, as children of this age are likely to swallow their toothpaste. This is also a good opportunity to teach by example through brushing your teeth with them, and when they get older and are capable of doing it independently, brushing together to solidify the habit. Begin to teach this habit twice a day so that they will learn regular brushing.
Starting at age 6 or 7, when your child begins to have the correct motor skills for independent brushing, begin to encourage them to do it themselves.
Fluoride, Sealants and Mouthwash
Depending on your child’s needs and your family history, it may be a good idea to talk to your dentist about getting tooth sealants for your child to prevent decay. Also, make sure that you’re using fluoride toothpaste with the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. Both fluoride and sealants will toughen your child’s enamel, keep bacteria from settling on their teeth and prevent food acids from harming them.
Your child can begin to use mouthwash when they get older and begin to rinse and spit by themselves. Mouthwash will assist in preventing tooth decay and cavities by helping get rid of any harmful bacteria that may remain after brushing. Another good practice is to teach your child to rinse with water after meals to remove leftover food particles from their teeth.
If you have any other questions about teaching your child tooth brushing, or about any other children’s wellness topics, please contact us!