Kids and Their Teeth
Parents Can Make the Difference
Parents supporting the concept of good oral health can positively
influence the course of their children's lives from the time that
they are infants through adulthood. Good habits are hard to break.
Even infants can be taught to enjoy the fresh feeling of a clean
Brushing and Flossing for Kids
Brushing and flossing are the two single most important home-care
activities and are a front-line defense against tooth decay and
periodontal disease for adults and children. The mouths of infants
can accumulate dental plaque just like adults. Cleaning of gums can
begin even before a child's first teeth erupt. All that needs to be
done is to gently wipe the baby's gums and any teeth with a clean
gauze pad or clean cloth over the adult's finger. If you start early
enough, infants will become accustomed to receiving dental
care/maintenance, and they will be much more positive about brushing
in the future.
As soon as a child has their first primary tooth (usually at 5-7
months old), the cleaning can be accomplished with a child's soft
toothbrush and child's mild toothpaste. When more teeth have
erupted, fluoride is often recommended, usually when the child is
six years old. Check with your child's dentist to get his or her
When choosing a child's toothbrush, pick one that has a nylon
bristled brush. Natural bristles retain moisture and trap bacteria
that would be reintroduced each time the child brushes. The nylon
bristles help the toothbrush to dry out between brushings. Bristles
should be soft to avoid injuring gum tissue.
Most dentists recommend fluoridated toothpaste for their patients.
Toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association is both safe
Most infants and young children need to use only a very small
amount, about the size of a pea, as any more paste used will just
become swallowed potentially causing stomach upset. Do not choose
whitening toothpaste and tartar reducing varieties for children.
Fluoride content also must be monitored. Check with your child's
dentist to find out what is recommended.
For removing the accumulated plaque between teeth, flossing is the
way to go. The floss is able to reach the areas between teeth that
the toothbrush cannot. Children need help with flossing until they
are about 9 years old and have developed the manual dexterity to
manipulate the floss. A parent should take a lead role and floss the
child's teeth once most of the 20 primary teeth appear or 3 years of
Set a Good Example
When your children are young, make sure that they can watch you when
you are brushing and flossing. Setting a good example will begin the
process of having them recognize the actions of good home care. Make
sure they have plenty of opportunities to watch you. Let them ask
questions. Let them "help" you brush your teeth. After they have had
a turn, and they have seen what to expect, they will be much more
inclined to let you "have a turn" with brushing their teeth.
When brushing your child's teeth, or your own, for that matter,
brush up and down as the teeth grow: upper teeth should be brushed
down, and lower teeth should be brushed up, biting surfaces are
brushed in a horizontal manner. Then the mouth is rinsed with clean
water. Kids love to empty their mouths in the sink, and they will
have fun being "big enough" to participate like mom and dad.
Routine is important. Brushing after breakfast is a good time
because it helps to remove any food particles and debris that would
otherwise be bathing the teeth in tooth decay creating acids all day
long. Brushing just before bedtime is also important.
A note to parents: Most children take to practicing good oral
hygiene very well with positive attitudes. When your child is tired
and crabby, however, that will not be the best time to begin new
tooth care habits, brushing or flossing. Be creative. Play music,
sing songs, keep tooth brushing time fun and light. Don't wait until
everyone is overtired to tackle what can turn into a negative power
struggle. Avoid using force or threats. (Especially, don't paint a
scary picture of the dentist as the "guy who will take out all your
teeth" as a way to get your kid to brush. Comments like that get
remembered, and the next dental visit can be a nightmare...for
everyone.) Patience, creativity, positive reinforcement, persistence
and reassurance will help your child reach their goal of good oral
Your Child's First Dental Visit
Most dentists start seeing children near their third birthday. Your
child's first visit, and all follow-up visits to the dentist, should
be as normal and as much fun as going to the grocery store or to get
a hair cut. The key to a successful appointment is making the whole
dental experience as enjoyable, uneventful and as routine as
possible. These recommendations are very helpful:
A visit to the dentist shouldn't be treated as anything unusual or
out of the ordinary. It shouldn't be any different than a trip to
the library. In fact, it is recommend that you "sandwich-in" the
visit to the dentist along with the day's errands. What you can say
is, "After breakfast we are going to drop your books off at the
library, go see the dentist to get your teeth cleaned and counted,
and then we are going to go to the grocery store to buy food for
Make you child's appointment early in the day. When kids are tired,
they don't always want to experience new adventures, especially at
the end of a busy day.
Don't say things like "The dentist won't hurt you." Most often all
the child will hear is the word HURT and is adds to the uncertainty
of a new situation.
In addition, try to keep older siblings from teasing the younger
child about the new experience. Often it is a good idea to have a
younger child watch a cooperative older brother or sister get their
teeth cleaned and checked and counted. If you want, a child could
visit and watch when a parent comes in for a continuing care
appointment. Who knows, the younger child may even want to have a
"ride" in the chair and see the prizes that dentists award to
cooperative, helpful patients. Wouldn't it be great to hear your
child ask, "When will it be my turn?"
A couple of weeks before the visit read one of the excellent
children's books about visits to the dentist with your child. Your
local library has many books available, and the librarian will be
happy to help you select stories that will be right for your child.
These stories will be able to give a positive introduction to your
Play dentist. Take turns counting your child's teeth and let them
count yours. Encourage brushing, and help your child each night.
Please don't promise extraordinary bribes for going to the dentist's
office or for being really good. Kids see right through the act and
get the feeling that something is happening that will cause anxiety.
Dentists and their staffs expect that most children will want to be
cooperative, and they are used to working with children.
Please keep in mind that there have been many positive changes in
dentistry over the past 25 to 30 years. Children today are usually
not afraid. Where patients once grew to expect dental fear and
discomfort, dentistry is now able to provide gentle dental care that
helps patients keep their teeth a lifetime.