We all know what a challenge it can be to get our little ones to brush their teeth every morning and night. It’s also sometimes difficult to help them understand why brushing your teeth and then having a bowl of sugary cereal before bed is not such a great idea – I’m thinking about all those teenagers out there!
As with every other aspect of parenting, it’s all about laying good foundations for life and oral hygiene is no exception. Bad habits picked up now can be difficult to eradicate later, while good habits will stand them in good stead throughout their adult lives.
Getting Children To Brush Their Teeth
Do you know how to brush your teeth? It may seem like a silly question but if you’re not brushing your teeth effectively it is going to be hard to teach your children how to do so. I would highly recommend that the next time you visit your dentist you ask them to check your brushing technique. Then you’ll be able to model good brushing to your children as they grow up – children copy and learn from us.
You can also ask your dentist to check how well your children are brushing and give them some guidance. Often, especially with older children, a person in ‘authority’ is able to convey this information much better than parents can – we all know how much teenagers love to listen to their parents!
Below is some dental guidance to help you care for your children’s teeth and gums:
- Children up to three years old, should use a smear of toothpaste with a fluoride level of no less than 1000ppm (parts per million). After three years old, they should use a toothpaste that contains 1350ppm -1500ppm.
- Once children’s teeth start to touch each other (usually around 4 years old) you can also introduce flossing. Parents should do this for their child, but from about the age of 8 they can start to do this themselves with some supervision.
- Parents should supervise their children’s tooth brushing until they’re at least 7 years old, to ensure they are brushing correctly and they are forming good habits. However, if you can continue to supervise them for longer, without evading their privacy or independence, do – older children and teenagers can be a little lazy when left to their own devices.
- Take your child to the dentist as soon as their first teeth start to appear and take advantage of regular check ups. Don’t make a big deal about visiting the dentist so they don’t develop any phobias about it, and then prevention of dental problems will become part of their oral hygiene routine for life.
- There are lots of novelty products available to help children brush their teeth for the right amount of time (2 minutes), such as timers, flashing toothbrushes, even brushes that play a tune – find something that works for your family.
- Reward charts are a good way to tackle any problems such as a child refusing to brush their teeth. Just don’t use sweets as the reward at the end!
- Use disclosing tablets to show areas of your children’s mouth that may need better brushing. Sometimes children need to see the evidence to compel them to brush their teeth properly.
- Teenagers can also use a GumSaver brush 2 – 4 times a week to help prevent gum disease.
While children’s oral health has improved drastically over the years, two in three children aged 12 are now found to be free of visible dental decay whereas in 1973 this figure was less than one in ten*, there is always room for improvement.
In those cases of dental decay it’s sweets and other sugary food, combined with poor oral care, that are the culprits. It’s fine for children to have the occasional sweet treat, but parents can also show children how to protect their teeth and gums when they do indulge so that best practices become routine.
This is what I recommend to my patients, and their parents, at my dental practice:
- Have fizzy drinks with a meal, not by themselves,
- If you have a sugary snack outside of mealtimes, brush your teeth afterwards,
- If you can’t brush immediately afterwards, rinse around your mouth with water.
If you start practising this guidance early, hopefully your teenagers will continue to follow this as they become more independent and start buying and consuming food themselves without your knowledge, for example after school. More on sweets and chocolate in my recent post: Chocolate And Children’s Teeth And Gums
Educate Children About Dental Health Problems
In my experience one of the most effective ways to encourage your children to take responsibility for their oral care, is to educate them about why. It’s all very well saying ‘brush your teeth’ but if they don’t understand why they should it isn’t going to be a priority.
With young children a limited amount of information about plaque and cavities should be enough; but with older children and teenagers it’s important to talk to them about gum disease as this is something that affects many adults and can lead to tooth loss and other health complications.
Severe gum disease is quite rare in children, but gingivitis is not uncommon. This form of gum disease (symptoms include swollen gums, bleeding, bad breath and receding gums) can be easily treated with good oral care, but if left can progress to periodontal disease and can result in tooth loss.
If you’re worried about your child’s teeth and gums, book a check up with your dentist.
For more information about treating gum disease, both in adults and children, you can read this blog post.