Most children spend less than a minute brushing their teeth. Oral health care professionals recommend, however, that they brush for 2-3 minutes. Try putting a timer in the bathroom or giving your child a toothbrush with a timer built in. Or have them brush for the length of a song, which is generally 2-3 minutes.
It's especially important that your child brush his/her teeth before going to bed at night. The 8-10 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 is lower at night so food is less likely to be washed off the teeth. The technique for brushing teeth is the same whether you do it or he/she does it. If your child is too young to do it him/herself, it may be easiest to cradle his/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 a 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, and 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 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 sides of the bottom teeth when brushing. Be sure to pay special attention to these areas.
Flossing: Once any two teeth touch each other, it's time to start flossing; this helps prevent cavities by removing plaque and food particles caught between teeth. Your child should be able to floss his/her own teeth by the time he/she is age 9. To floss younger children's teeth, place them in your lap facing you, then:
- Take about 18 inches of dental floss, 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.
- Push 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 should:
- See a dentist regularly
- Brush twice a day and floss at night before bedtime
- Get the right amount of fluoride
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables