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Brushing and Flossing 101

One of the most important components of oral hygiene is establishing good brushing and flossing habits. Learning and maintaining proper technique, along with regular checkups with a pediatric dentist, can set a child on the right track towards great oral health.

Introducing Oral Hygiene

Brushing and flossing can clean teeth of plaque and debris and prevent the buildup of harmful, cavity-causing bacteria. Wiping an infant's gums clean with a wet cloth in the first months after birth can help set the stage for good oral hygiene even before teeth emerge. Once tooth brushing begins, it's important to brush twice each day, a habit that should continue through childhood and into adulthood.

Parents should begin to brush a baby's teeth as soon as the first one emerges, typically after 4 months of age. A soft-bristled brush is appropriate for babies and young children, especially while a baby is teething and their gums are tender. As soon as two adjacent teeth come in, it's time to start flossing. Flossing once daily in a "c-shape" around both sides of each adjacent tooth will help clear out debris and buildup from hard-to-reach areas and promote healthy gums.

Keeping Up the Habit

As soon as children can begin assisting their parents in brushing and flossing their teeth, they should be encouraged to do so! Building fun routines can help a child develop a positive association with oral hygiene, and can be a great time for parent-child bonding. Children should continue to receive assistance until they can do a good job on their own, typically up until 6 or 7 years of age.

For effective brushing, the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends electric toothbrushes over their manual counterparts. These can also make brushing more fun, and help kids brush for a sufficient amount of time thanks to built-in timers. Any electric toothbrushes should have the American Dental Academy (ADA) seal of approval on the label to ensure that these brushes are soft and appropriate for children.

While garnering your child's enthusiasm for brushing and flossing can be a challenge, there are ways to make the process more exciting and fun. Letting your child choose the toothbrush (as long as it's appropriate) and flavor of toothpaste can be a good start, along with experimenting with things like colored, flavored flosses, and electric toothbrushes with features like music or lights.

Safety Tips

It is equally important for these routines to be as safe and effective as they are enjoyable. The AADP recommends that for young children (up until age 5), parents should dispense toothpaste and make sure that children are spitting it out afterward to avoid ingesting too much fluoride. A slow buildup of fluoride in the body may lead to fluorosis, which is a usually mild condition that causes slightly discolored permanent teeth. A pediatric dentist can determine if a child is receiving too much (or too little) fluoride, and make recommendations accordingly.

The choice in toothbrushes and toothpaste also matter for safety. Toothbrushes should have a small head and a larger handle. And it's important to find toothpaste labeled with the ADA seal of approval; some toothpaste can include ingredients that are harsh for developing teeth.

Safe techniques of brushing and flossing should be practiced to eliminate discomfort and promote good oral health. Tooth or gum trauma can occur from using a hard-bristled toothbrush or by brushing or flossing too vigorously. A pediatric dentist can help both parents and children master good brushing and flossing techniques to make sure that these habits are as pleasant and effective as possible.

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