Brushing and Flossing Children’s Teeth
What your child eats affects his or her teeth. Too many carbohydrates, sugar (for example, from cake, cookies, candies, milk, and other sugary foods and beverages), and starches (for example, pretzels and potato chips) can cause tooth decay. How long carbohydrates remain on the teeth is the main culprit that leads to tooth decay.
- Fruits and vegetables: Offer fruits and vegetables as a snack instead of carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables that contain a high volume of water, such as pears, melons, celery, and cucumbers are best. Limit banana and raisin consumption as these contain concentrated sugar or if you serve these fruits, try to brush your child’s teeth immediately after they are eaten.
- Cheese: Serve cheese with lunch or as a snack, especially cheddar, Monterey Jack, Swiss, and other aged cheeses which help to trigger the flow of saliva. Saliva helps to wash food particles away from teeth.
- Avoid sticky, chewy foods: Raisins, dried figs, granola bars, oatmeal or peanut butter cookies, jelly beans, caramel, honey, molasses, and syrup stick to teeth making it difficult for saliva to wash the sugar away. If your child consumes these types of products, have them brush their teeth immediately after eating.
- Serve sugary treats with meals, not as snacks. If you plan to give your child any sweets, give them as desserts immediately following the meal. There’s usually an increased amount of saliva in the mouth around mealtime, making it easier to wash food away from teeth. The mealtime beverage also helps to wash away food particles on teeth.
- Get your children in the habit of eating as few snacks as possible. The frequency of snacking is far more important than the quantity consumed. Time between meals allows saliva to wash away food particles that bacteria would otherwise feast on. Frequent snacking, without brushing immediately afterward, provides constant fuel to feed bacteria, which leads to plaque development and tooth decay. Try to limit snacks as much as possible and to no more than one or two a day. Brush teeth immediately after consuming the snack if possible.
- Avoid sugary foods that linger on the teeth. Lollipops, hard candies, cough drops, and mints all contribute to tooth decay because they continuously coat the teeth with sugar.
- Buy foods that are sugar-free or unsweetened.
- Never put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with milk, formula, juice, or soda.
- Offer your child plain water instead of juice or soda. Juices, sodas, and even milk contain sugar. Water does not harm the teeth and aids in washing away any food particles that may be clinging to teeth.
- Include good sources of calcium in your child’s diet to build strong teeth. Good sources include milk, broccoli, and yogurt.
Here are some tips for taking care of your child’s teeth:
- Choose a small, child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush. Soaking the brush in warm water for a few minutes before brushing can soften the bristles even more.
- Both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend using an amount of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice as soon as your baby’s first tooth appears. You can graduate to a pea-sized amount when your child turns 3 years old.
- Brush your child’s teeth twice a day – in the morning and just before bed. Spend 2 minutes brushing, concentrating a good portion of this time on the back molars. This is an area where cavities often first develop. Take turns brushing with your child, as she may want to help.
- Replace the toothbrush every 3 or 4 months, or sooner if it shows signs of wear. Never share a toothbrush with others.
- Start flossing your child’s teeth once a day as soon as two teeth emerge that touch. The use of floss sticks or picks instead of regular string floss may be easier for both you and your child.
- After your child is 6 years old, a fluoride rinse can help prevent cavities. Ask your dentist which product is right.
- Ask your dentist about your child’s fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants. These are thin, plastic protective barriers that fill in the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, protecting them
When Should Children Brush and Floss on Their Own?
Most children lack the coordination to brush or floss their teeth on their own until about the age of 6 or 7. Up until this time, remember that the best way to teach children how to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Allowing your child to watch you brush your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene.
How Safe Is Fluoride for My Child?
Fluoride is safe for children. Fluoride is a natural mineral that protects and strengthens the teeth against the formation of cavities. Using it early in your child’s life will provide extra protection for developing teeth. Find out if your tap water contains fluoride by calling your local water authority. If your tap water does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist if you should give your child a fluoride supplement.
Do Home Faucet Filters Remove Fluoride?
There is a wide variation in water filters. Some do filter out fluoride; others do not. Check with the manufacturer of the filter you have purchased or have the water tested by a laboratory that does this type of testing.
Does It Matter What Toothpaste My Child Uses?
Many children’s toothpastes are flavored with child-pleasing tastes to further encourage brushing. Select your child’s favorite. Also, look for toothpastes that carry the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. This indicates that the toothpaste has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Finally, read the manufacturer’s label. Some toothpastes are not recommended for children under a certain age.
Can My Child Use a Mouthwash?
Generally, mouthwashes are not recommended in children who are incapable of spitting and rinsing – skills that occur around the age of 6. In older children, a fluoride mouth rinse can help prevent tooth decay and cavities in addition to brushing and flossing. Rinsing after a meal with water will also help remove some larger particles of food left on or between the teeth.
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