Most children spend less than a minute brushing their teeth. Oral health care professionals recommend, however, that they brush for two to three minutes. If it helps, try putting a timer in the bathroom or giving your child a toothbrush with a timer built in. This way, your child will know how long to brush. Or, have them brush for the length of a song, which is generally two to three minutes.
It’s especially important that your child brush his or her teeth before going to bed at night. The eight to 10 hours your child is asleep gives bacteria lots of time to feast on food particles left on the teeth and produce enamel-eating acid. The flow of saliva in the mouth also is lower at night so food is less likely to be washed off the teeth.
The technique for brushing your child’s teeth is the same whether you do it or he or she does it. If your child is too young to do it him or herself, it may be easiest to cradle his or her head in your one arm while keeping your other hand free to brush.
To brush your child’s teeth:
- Place the toothbrush alongside the teeth. The bristles should be at a 45-degree angle to the gum line.
- Gently move the brush in a small circular motion cleaning one tooth at time. Be sure to have a system so you don’t miss any teeth. For instance, you might start with the bottom back tooth and work your way to the front, then repeat on the opposite side of the mouth before switching to the top teeth.
- Brush across the chewing surfaces, making sure the bristles get into the grooves and crevices. Clean the side of the teeth that face the tongue using the same circular motion. Again, start in the back and work your way forward. Remember to brush the inside of the top teeth, too.
- Brush your child’s tongue lightly to remove bacteria and keep breath smelling good.
- Have your child rinse his or her mouth with water.
Most children miss the molars and the tongue sides of the bottom teeth when brushing. Be sure to pay special attention to these areas.
Once any two of your child’s teeth touch each other, it’s time to start flossing. Flossing helps prevent cavities by removing plaque and food particles caught between teeth. It should be an important part of your child’s dental routine.
Your child should be able to floss his or her own teeth by the time he or she is 9 years old. To floss younger children’s teeth, place them in your lap facing you. The technique is the same, no matter who is doing it. To floss your child’s teeth:
- Take about 18 inches of dental floss and wrap one end around each of your middle fingers.
- Using your thumbs and index fingers as guides, gently slide the floss between two teeth, using a saw-like motion.
- Once at the gum line, pull both ends of the floss in the same direction to form a C shape against one tooth. Pull the floss tightly and move it up and down against one tooth.
- Pull the floss against the other tooth and repeat the motion.
- Repeat this for all of the teeth. Be sure to floss both sides of the teeth farthest back in the mouth.
Remember, good oral hygiene is an important part of your child’s overall health. Your child can get off to a good start by:
- Seeing a dentist regularly
- Brushing twice a day and flossing at night before bedtime at home
- Getting the right amount of fluoride
- Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables