Taking care of the mouth starts before your child has teeth. You should wipe your baby’s gums with a wet washcloth after feeding to get them used to the post-eating cleaning process. Once teeth erupt (are visible in the mouth) you can use a tooth brush designed for infants. If you use toothpaste at this age, use one designed for infants. It will not foam and can be safely swallowed since your infant can’t spit out the excess.
Children as young as 2 should be encouraged to brush their own teeth using a toddler brush, though you’ll have to follow up and do a thorough brushing also. By age 2-3 they should be starting to brush after every meal. If brushing isn’t possible, try to rinse mouth out with water. Young kids will tend to brush their front teeth but never get to their back teeth or the tongue side of their teeth. Battery powered brushes might increase effectiveness of brushing and most have built in timers so kids brush for 2 minutes. You should still follow up after your child brushes and do a thorough brushing. Why?
Fine motor skills are needed for effective brushing—this usually doesn’t happen until somewhere between ages 4 and 6. Being able to tie shoes is a good indicator that fine motor skills are present. This is why you should help out with brushing and/or monitor it regularly until you know child is capable of doing a good job. Spot checks on brushing effectiveness are helpful even after you know your child is able to do a good job.
For young children, rather than brushing at the sink, it might be easier to have the child lay with his/her head in your lap with the head tipped back. Try to make it fun: have a special song that you sing during brushing, have them roar like a dinosaur, or some other fun activity.
Toothpaste should not be swallowed—use only a pea size amount of toothpaste. Flouridated toothpastes can cause a discoloring of developing teeth called fluorosis if it is swallowed too often or too much is swallowed at one time. Large amounts of swallowed fluoride can also cause tummyaches.
Flossing should also be done for kids. The flossing process is same no matter what the child’s age. You may find that using the disposable flossers that are preloaded is easier than using regular floss.
Need to check how well your child is brushing? You can ask your dentist for plaque disclosing tablets, use something like Listerine’s Agent Cool Blue, or make your own plaque disclosing solution by putting 2 drops of blue or green food coloring in 2 teaspoons of water. Rinsing with this will stain the plaque on your or your child’s teeth. (Do this at night as it may stain the tongue and lips too!)
It does take a bit of work on your part, parents, but by developing the teeth cleaning habit early in life and reinforcing it through childhood, your child will hopefully develop the skills to keep their own teeth clean and healthy.
*Note: Information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.
1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053