If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s important to give your kids a healthy oral start by establishing good dental habits early on. Children are likely to model the behaviors seen at home, and maintaining proper oral health is no exception.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that both children and adults brush at least two times a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes each time. The right tools are important, so for kids, buy a soft-bristled toothbrush with a small head. Thankfully, there is a wide range of child-size brushes available, both manual and electric.
Brushing is foundational to a lifetime of good oral health, as it enables the removal of food and plaque (the sticky white film that can build up on teeth, causing bacteria). Eating any food or snack containing sugar can result in plaque, which will then result in acids that erode tooth enamel.
Brushing should begin as soon as a child first starts getting teeth. Those first teeth may last as long as a decade, so they must be properly cared for. Children younger than age 6 will rely on adults to help care for their teeth. While it’s ok to have a young child “help,” young children will need an adult to physically do the bulk of the brushing for them.
Here are some tips for getting your children to properly brush their teeth.
1. Be a good role model.
Children rely on their parents/caregivers to navigate their world, and when it comes to dental care, what you do will impact their choices and actions. Establishing good oral health habits starts with communicating the importance of brushing with your children. Relay why brushing and taking care of your teeth is an important part of good overall health. Brushing your teeth can be equated to health/safety measures such as taking a shower or wearing a seatbelt.
From an early age, let children see you brushing and flossing and making healthy choices when it comes to good oral hygiene. They will follow your lead!
2. Practice good technique.
Brushing is only effective when done correctly. From about the age of six when a child has the coordination to brush their teeth, you can start establishing a good routine by having your family dentist explain how to properly brush your teeth.
Here at Wilton Smiles, we teach even our youngest patients good brushing techniques, however, these practices must also be reinforced at home. Tips include:
- How to hold a toothbrush properly
- Angling the toothbrush and moving it in the direction so that it meets the gum line
- Brushing every surface of each tooth using short, gentle strokes
- Moving the brush in a circular motion to reach all areas of the teeth
- Working gently to avoid irritation of the gum
- Brushing all teeth and not just the ones in the front, plus don’t neglect your tongue, which helps remove bacteria and helps keep breath fresh
Starting good technique at a young age will make it easier for brushing to become part of your child’s daily routine. And, when they can start brushing independently, it’s important to supervise them to ensure that they are being thorough.
3. Make brushing fun.
Get kids excited about brushing by making it fun and incorporating props and other engaging elements to encourage their participation. A few ideas include:
- Have new brushers in your home, “practice” proper technique on a favorite doll or stuffed animal…they can even practice on you!
- Set an electric timer or use a colorful sand timer so that kids know they are brushing for at least two minutes at a time
- Go shopping and let children choose their toothbrush in a favorite color or featuring a favorite cartoon character. Kids may also be motivated by an electric toothbrush, many of which now include fun characters and a timer. (Note: Remember to replace toothbrushes every 3 or 4 months, depending on wear and tear!)
- You can also let kids help select toothpaste, as long as it contains fluoride
4. Reiterate the importance of brushing as part of daily hygiene.
Particularly in our post-pandemic world, kids know about the importance of hand washing as a means of overall cleanliness and health, but from an early age, kids should also be exposed to the importance of good hygiene practices, part of which includes daily brushing of teeth.
In addition to daily showers or baths, wearing clean clothes, and proper grooming, parents and caregivers should reiterate the importance of good hygiene, which includes consistent oral care.
5. Establish brushing as part of the morning and nighttime routine.
Kids thrive with routine. Because brushing must be done at least two times a day, establish it as part of their morning and nighttime routines.
In the morning, brushing should happen after breakfast to start the day with a clean, fresh mouth and good breath.
At night, even if they are resistant to going to bed as many children often are, a consistent nighttime routine that includes brushing will help maintain proper oral health care. The routine may include bathtime, brushing teeth, reading books, and then lights out!
Like these daily rituals, children will come to include brushing as part of their routines, both to start and end their day.
Helping your family establish other good oral health habits
From teaching proper techniques to modeling good habits, the earlier you can help your child incorporate good brushing habits into their daily life, the better off they will be.
Continue to support your child’s brushing efforts by taking other precautions such as limiting juice and other sugary drinks, ramping up their water in between meals and at bedtime, limiting candy, and flossing daily.
It’s also crucial that you stay on top of scheduling regular dental visits every six months. In need of an appointment for your child? Give us a call at (203) 762-9907!
Here at Wilton Smiles, we’re here to help you and your loved ones establish and maintain good oral practices. Connect with us anytime if you have questions or concerns about your child’s brushing or overall oral health.