Caring for Your Child’s Teeth
If you are anything like me, you won’t really think about caring for your children’s teeth until the first pearly white peeks through a tender gum; however, proper oral care should start the moment your bundle of joy arrives and will remain in your parental domain for many years.
Before Teeth Appear:
Even before your child has any visible teeth, their gums should be wiped daily with a damp washcloth to remove bacteria build-up. Daily cleaning also helps your child become used to oral care.
Once your child has a visible tooth, it’s time to purchase their very first toothbrush. Toothbrushes intended for baby use are very soft and easy on the gums. The use of toothpaste for children under the age of three is a bit controversial, with some dental associations recommending the use of fluoridated toothpaste for all children and other recommending using only water until children are able to spit properly at the age of three. The usefulness of non-fluoridated toothpaste (aka baby toothpaste) is debatable and I have not found one dental organization that recommends their use.
Teeth cleaning should be done a minimum of twice a day for two minutes each time. Two minutes is a long time and most of us don’t brush for that long. To get an idea of how long that is, you may want to set an egg timer (or even the timer on your stove) until you are used to brush, brush, brushing for that period of time.
If your children are anything like mine, they will likely resist having their teeth brushed. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid a minor conflict, but here are my tips for a (semi) smooth tooth cleaning session:
- Be consistent with tooth care. If your children know that their teeth will always be cleaned at the same times each day, there will be less resistance to the activity.
- Let your child practice brushing their teeth before you take over for the true cleaning.
- Make faces indicating how you want your child to hold their mouth (e.g. open wide, bare your teeth, stick out your tongue, etc.). I find my kids automatically will copy my facial expressions and it helps them know what I expect when I’m cleaning their teeth.
- Try singing a song to keep them entertained. Singing a song will also help you know how long two minutes of time is. (For example, I need to sing the ABC song five times to equal two minutes of brushing.)
Most dentists recommend a first visit to the dentist within six months of the eruption of first teeth or by the age of one.
Once your child has all of their teeth, it’s time to start flossing. To make it easier on yourself, you may want to try floss picks which I have found are much easier to manage with a wiggly toddler than regular string floss.
Once your child is at the age of three, and they are able to spit out most of the toothpaste in their mouth, you can start using regular fluoridated toothpaste. Be sure to use just a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste as too much fluoride can cause discolouration of the teeth. Your child will still not be able to brush all of their teeth well, so you will need to continue brushing their teeth for them until the age of seven or eight. Use this time to make sure your child learns how to clean their entire mouth. Explain that we clean the biting surfaces, both sides of the teeth, the roof of the mouth and the tongue.
With your expert guidance, your child should have reached the point where they can manage brushing and flossing on their own.