February is when the American Dental Association dedicates its resources to improving and promoting children’s oral health. During the National Children’s Dental Health Month, dental and healthcare professionals reach out to children, parents, caregivers and teachers with ways to tout the benefits of proper oral health.
As part of these efforts, here are five facts and tips to keep in mind when helping kids understand the need for proper brushing and flossing, as well as challenges parents can help overcome.
Not brushing long enough
The mindset may be that a little brushing is better than nothing. But brushing hard and fast for a few seconds is not as effective as gentle brushing for the full two minutes, as recommended by the ADA. Modern technology can come to the rescue here. There are fun and interactive teeth brushing apps that include countdown clocks, and even toothbrushes that have built-in timers.
Whereas kids need to learn to be responsible and make regular brushing and flossing a part of their daily routine, the burden to schedule and facilitate regular dental check-ups falls on parents and caregivers. Kids should have their first dental check-up by the time they are one. Then maintain a twice-yearly appointment for check-ups and cleanings.
Tooth decay is the single most common chronic disease during childhood, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Cavities are caused by a bacterial infection — germs. It’s not candy, or any other “bad” food that causes tooth decay, but the lack of proper cleaning and care after eating that results in the germs and decay. As long as kids maintain regular oral cleaning habits, no food has to be banned. Just as important, remember that bacteria can spread when saliva is shared, so do not share toothbrushes. Avoid sharing eating utensils to prevent the spread of bacteria as well.
Toothpaste and flouride
In 2014, the American Dental Association changed its position on the use of fluoride toothpaste in children. Its current recommendation states: “Children under three years of age should brush using a ‘smear’ of fluoride-containing toothpaste, no larger than the size of a grain of rice, twice a day (morning and night). After the age of three, the ADA now recommends that children brush with a pea-sized portion, once in the morning and once at night.” Ideally, children should begin using toothpaste when they are able to spit it out and not swallow it.
Be a role model
One of the most effective ways to instill good habits in children is for the adults around them to model the healthy behaviors. Brush and floss with your kids, together, so they see you doing exactly what you want them to do. Then also bring them along to your dental check-ups. This way they can observe your comfort and become familiar with the environment before it is their turn to participate.