Attention parents: It’s never too early to pay attention to your children’s oral health. Good oral hygiene starts in babyhood. As soon as a baby’s teeth come in, clean them daily by wiping them with a soft cloth or special baby toothbrush and water. Bedtime in the evening is a good time to get in the habit of cleaning your baby’s teeth.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, gingivitis is not limited to adults—it occurs in children and adolescents, too. Gingivitis in children can be easily treated and reversed with a consistent oral care routine of twice-daily tooth brushing. But early detection of gingivitis is essential so it can be treated before it becomes severe. Check your child’s teeth daily, and remind your middle-schoolers and adolescents to pay attention to their gums as well.
Some other oral health points to keep in mind for babies, young children and adolescents:
If you see spots or stains on your baby's teeth, visit a dentist. Healthy baby teeth should be all one color, without spots or stains. Although baby teeth will fall out to make room for permanent teeth, it's important to keep them clean. Tooth decay can occur in baby teeth, and it can be painful for the child and may lead to problematic infections. Most baby teeth are in place by about 2 years of age, and you can brush them with a soft toothbrush designed for you child's particular stage development.
Although young children may think they can brush their teeth themselves, most children don’t have the manual dexterity for thorough teeth cleaning until they are about 7 years old. Until then, help your child brush and floss. Let them “do it themselves” first, and then follow-up by helping them brush and floss again. Most young children thrive on regular schedules, so try making morning and evening tooth brushing and flossing a family event and do your own brushing and flossing at the same time.
Once children start school, parents have less influence over their meals and snacks during the day. Set an example for your children by eating a variety of healthy foods yourself, and by following a consistent oral health care routine of twice-daily tooth brushing and daily flossing. You may think that children don’t notice, but they do. Pack plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods as healthy snacks, and keep the sugary drinks to a minimum—they are among the factors that can promote tooth decay.
Adolescents are busy people with unpredictable eating habits and schedules. But they’re still very interested in how they look, so parents can encourage oral hygiene by reminding them that regular brushing and flossing will help them look better by promoting a healthy smile and fresh breath.
One important component of oral hygiene for many adolescents is learning how to floss with braces. Explain to your braces-wearing child that flossing will take quite a bit longer with braces, but that it is important for them to make the time and the effort in order to help prevent plaque buildup, which can lead to tartar, and keep their teeth healthy to enhance that smile once the braces come off.
Sometimes children start wearing braces prior to adolescence. If you have a younger child who wears braces, it may take longer for him or her to learn to floss, and parents may need to provide some help.
Two products that can help children and teens (or adults, for that matter) floss with braces are a floss threader or a special orthodontic floss, which has stiff ends that can be threaded under the braces’ main wire.
To floss with braces, follow these basic steps:
- Insert the stiff of the special orthodontic floss under the main wire on the braces
- Follow the proper technique for flossing: Gently guide the floss between the teeth and slide it under the gum, curving it in a “C” shape to clean the tooth surface.
If your child or adolescent prefers to use a floss threader, he or she can use any type of floss. Place the floss through the threader, then slide the pointed end of the threader under the main wire of the braces and pull it through, so the floss is positioned under the wire. Then proceed with the proper flossing technique.