Submitted by Sheri Brunette
Outreach Dental Hygienist, NorthLakes Community Clinic
We all have been told that we need to brush our teeth two times a day. Can you remember as a child someone showing or helping you to take care of your teeth? With that in mind let’s talk about oral hygiene for kids.
The secret for establishing good oral hygiene for a lifetime starts at an early age. Making and taking time to help your children care for their teeth will help to teach the importance of daily oral hygiene and self-care. Try to keep brushing as stress-free as possible. Make it a family routine, brush together! First some things we need to know before we jump in to the same ol’ same ol’ of brushing and flossing.
Baby teeth are important. Baby teeth serve very important functions such as: chewing healthy foods, aid in forming sounds to speak, and holding space for permanent teeth. A child’s first tooth comes in the mouth around 6 months of age. Some baby teeth will maintain space for permanent teeth until as late as age 14.
Tooth Decay (cavities). Cavities are caused by germs. These germs live in our mouths. The cavity causing germs are passed to our children by sharing cups, toothbrushes, silverware, and kissing. Pretty much anything put in a mother’s, caregiver’s, or sibling’s mouth then shared with an infant or young child results in the transfer of this bacteria/germs. Once these germs are in your child’s mouth, they live and grow creating sticky plaque that forms on and sticks to the teeth. These germs are living bacteria; the bacteria grow and take in nutrients from sugars and carbohydrates that are consumed. As these living bacteria grow, they produce a waste product which is acid. The acid gets trapped in the sticky plaque and decays, or makes a hole, in the enamel of the teeth. This ‘acid attack’ continues to happen in a child’s mouth for 20 minutes after eating or drinking sugars or carbohydrates. Once child eats or drinks sugar or carbohydrates, it will take 20 minutes for the saliva to neutralize the mouth. Drinking or swishing water after consuming sugary drinks will aid in helping the saliva to neutralize the mouth until you are able to brush your teeth. However, if the child does not have good oral hygiene habits and plaque is present on the teeth, the acid attack continues to happen in the sticky film of the plaque.
A child is at higher risk to have cavities if their parents have cavities. Tooth decay is preventable. However, if left untreated, tooth decay can move into the softer layers of the tooth. If the decay spreads deep enough it can infect the living portion of the tooth, the nerve or pulp. Once the decay reaches the pulp of the tooth, the bacteria can spread to the rest of the body if left untreated. Serious complications can be a result of untreated cavities. Tooth decay starts as tiny white spots on the teeth near the gum line. These become easily visible once teeth been thoroughly brushed. Children who have a lot of cavities in their baby teeth are at higher risk for cavities in their permanent teeth.
Prevent cavities and promote a good oral hygiene routine. Starting an oral hygiene routine early engrains the importance of this daily activity. Start wiping your baby’s gums as soon as possible, using a wet washcloth to gently rub the gums. Do this after each feeding. As your child grows and teeth start to appear, introduce a finger brush or a small baby toothbrush to gently massage the gums and teeth. As more teeth grow in and touch each other, start to use floss to gently clean between the teeth. As your child grows and becomes more independent, allow them to brush first. Once they have had their turn brushing, let them know you get a turn to brush their teeth once they are done.
When brushing your child’s teeth, be sure to brush all sides. First, brush the tongue side of the teeth to the gum line, next brush the cheek side of the teeth. This can be easily done by having your child bite their teeth together and then use a large circular motion, gently brushing to the gum line of the top and bottom teeth at the same time. Next, brush the chewing surface of the teeth removing any bacteria or food that has accumulated in the grooves of the back teeth. Lastly, gently brush your child’s tongue. Children need help brushing their teeth until age 8 or 9 to ensure teeth are being properly brushed. A good indicator of when your child is ready to brush on their own is when they can neatly write their name. A follow up check, by an adult, every other day is not a bad idea as well. It is recommended that children brush two times a day, morning and night.
As a mom, I know mornings can be a struggle and are usually rushed. If there is only time for a quick brush, that is better than nothing at all. With that said, nightly brushing becomes extremely important, brush teeth for two minutes and floss teeth before bedtime. As children get older and do not need as much supervision while brushing, it is easy for them to “forget to brush” or play the blame game… “My mom doesn’t tell me to brush”. A simple solution to this would be reminding your child from a young age, if you are changing your clothes, you need to brush your teeth.
Fluoride can help to reduce cavities in children. Fluoride toothpaste can be used safely with young children as long as the proper amount is being used. A child under three should use only a smear, no bigger than a grain of rice. A child over three can use a small pea-sized amount. At this age, start teaching your child to gently spit the excess toothpaste out after brushing, but avoid rinsing with water after brushing.
A trip to the Dentist
Establish a dental home early for your child. Have your child’s first dental visit at age one or within six months of the arrival of their first tooth. At any age or time of a dental visit, try to keep the experience positive leading up to the child’s visit. It is easy to express our fears and anxieties of past dental visits. Most often people are eager to share a story about a dental experience which usually ended in an unpleasant way. Try to avoid these conversations. If this does happens assure your child you are visiting the dentist to keep their smile healthy. If you feel unsure of how to talk with your child about their dental visits, ask a dental professional for some helpful pointers. We are here to help and look forward to taking care of your child’s teeth.
Sheri Brunette is an Outreach Dental Hygienist at NorthLakes Community Clinic