We’re all leading busy lives, and it’s easy to let routines–even important routines–sit on a back burner in terms of our attention to them. It’s a simple mistake to make but bad for oral health and double so when little ones are involved. If you’re raising kids and trying to teach them to take care of their teeth, you’ll need to find ways to make oral health and hygiene a priority. The best way to do this is to lead by example and let them both see your regular brushing and flossing routine and participate in their own.
There are some good medical reasons for this. Oral health is important and oral health needs evolve as children grow. They’ll need different care as they get older, so here’s a general guideline as to appropriate oral health routines at every age:
- For infants, either wipe down their gums with a soft cloth and some clean water after each meal or use a very soft toothbrush and water to do the same thing. When baby teeth start to appear, follow the same routine using a toothbrush and toothpaste intended for infants–your dentist can recommend the right ones. This helps keep their little mouths clean and free of bacteria, preventing all sorts of problems later on.
- From the ages of two to about age five, children should have their teeth brushed by an adult at least twice a day, using a children’s toothbrush with a pea-sized bit of toothpaste on it. It’s nice to brush your teeth and your children’s teeth at the same time, so that the little ones can see that tooth care is something the adults do too. This helps them learn that regular brushing and flossing are important lifelong habits.
- Flossing should start as soon as the child’s teeth are in contact with each other, generally between the ages of two and three. This is when food particles can become trapped between teeth and lead to decay, and when a child is old enough to understand what flossing is for. Again, it helps to lead by example and floss their teeth at the same time you do your own.
- Around the age of six, most children should be able to brush and floss on their own, but that doesn’t mean that parent involvement should end. Brushing your teeth together further instills this is a lifelong habit. It’s also a good teaching opportunity, giving you the chance to explain how teeth work, why dentist visits are important, and what a good brushing and flossing routine does to keep us healthy.
- Children need different tools than adults do. Child-friendly toothpaste and child-sized toothbrushes are helpful and easily found in most stores. You’ll want to replace your little one’s toothbrush every two to four months, or more often if it looks frayed. You may want to replace it after they have a cold or other illness, just to cut down on germ exposure.
You can also help your child’s oral health by teaching them good attitudes towards dentist visits. In popular culture the dentist is often presented as a scary place, but the right family dentist should create a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. You can help by taking your kids along with you and keeping things relaxed–the dentist is here to help, not hurt, and there’s nothing scary about a routine exam and cleaning.
By teaching your kids good oral hygiene habits from an early age and getting them into a lifelong brushing and flossing routine, you’ll be setting them up for a healthy life filled with brilliant smiles. Teeth are meant to last a lifetime, and good early care is a great start toward that end!