A regular teeth-cleaning routine is essential for good dental health. Follow these tips and you can help keep your children’s teeth decay-free. Children need to be helped or supervised brushing their teeth until they’re at least 7 years old.
The best oral hygiene habits come from practicing at home. Here are some important habits to start incorporating at home. The best habits to begin at home are brushing twice a day, flossing, and maintaining a healthy diet.
Sesame Street: Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me: Brushy Brush
Choose the right toothbrush.
Regular toothbrushes can feel foreign and unfamiliar, particularly to children with oral sensitivities. Instead of a regular toothbrush, find a toothbrush with soft or silicone bristles. These gentler toothbrushes can help desensitize your child’s mouth and gums. Many specialty or baby toothbrushes feature small silicone bristles that allow your child to gradually grow accustomed to the sensation of brushing.
Choose the right toothpaste.
Although adults have had years to get used to mint toothpaste, this common toothpaste variety can cause a bitter or burning sensation in sensitive children. Fortunately, you can now find toothpaste in a range of child-friendly flavours like bubble-gum, berry, or even vanilla ice cream. If your child is visual and enjoys experimenting with colours, you may wish to try a multi-coloured children’s toothpaste. For some children, toothpaste flavour and foaming might be the cause of sensory overload. Instead of a highly flavoured toothpaste, choose and unflavoured and non-foaming toothpaste.
After brushing, spit out any excess toothpaste. Don’t rinse your mouth immediately after brushing, as it’ll wash away the concentrated fluoride in the remaining toothpaste. Rinsing dilutes it and reduces its preventative effects.
Develop a reward system and routine.
Children often benefit from visual supports and schedules (such as laminated wall posters, calendars, or whiteboards) to associate toothbrushing with a daily routine. You can set up a specific time for toothbrushing as well as a designated area for your child’s special supplies.
Sensory issues and tooth brushing
Toothbrushing is a high-sensory experience and can be a particularly challenging task for children with sensory sensitivities
- If your child is very sensitive, consider using a flannel to wipe the teeth.
- To decrease sensitivity, apply pressure to the teeth and gums.
- Use a very mild-flavoured toothpaste.
- Use pressure touch.
- Promote balance by standing behind your child to secure his body.
- Try an electric toothbrush – the vibration may be calming.
- Try joint compression to the head, neck, and shoulders in preparation for teeth brushing.
- Encourage frequent water drinking to remove extra food.
- Try a footstool to help your child reach the basin.
- Facilitate independence in children with fine motor difficulties by using toothpaste in a pump dispenser.
- Adapted from ‘Building Bridges through Sensory Integration’ by Ellen Youch, Paula Aquilla & Shirley Sutten
Dyspraxia, fine-motor coordination and toothbrushing
For children who struggle with motor mechanics, toothbrushing can be quite difficult! Children with dyspraxia (or other motor struggles) may face challenges with toothbrushing, such as holding and angling the toothbrush to reach all areas of the mouth. Additionally, they may struggle with squeezing toothpaste onto the brush. They may squeeze too hard, causing excess toothpaste to come out!
Here are some tips for children with dyspraxia or coordination difficulties:
Use an electric toothbrush: An electric toothbrush can make it easier for children with dyspraxia to brush their teeth. It reduces the need for complicated movements and allows for more efficient cleaning.
Teach your child to hold the toothbrush still on each tooth: Instead of brushing in circular motions, encourage your child to simply hold the electric toothbrush still on each tooth for a few seconds before moving on. This will ensure that each tooth gets an adequate cleaning.
Encourage your child to count to 2 before moving on to the next tooth. This helps them to establish a consistent rhythm and ensures that they spend enough time brushing each tooth. This also increases certainty (it creates rules to follow), helping the task to feel less overwhelming.
Practice, practice, practice: It can take time and practice for children with dyspraxia to get the hang of brushing their teeth. Encourage them to practice regularly and provide encouragement for all their effort!
Use a toothpaste pump: A toothpaste pump can help children with dyspraxia dispense the right amount of toothpaste without squeezing too hard.
Experiment with different toothbrushes: Different toothbrushes may work better for different children with dyspraxia. Experiment with different types and styles of toothbrushes until you find one that works well for your child (see the next section for some ideas).
Make it fun: When children with dyspraxia encounter something that is physically difficult, it can create a sense of helplessness and anxiety. Making toothbrushing a fun and playful activity can help to reduce anxiety and stress around the task. Try playing music or singing a song while brushing teeth, or finding other fun rituals to incorporate into the toothbrushing routine.
Baby “milk” teeth and permanent teeth
Milk teeth are the first teeth babies get. These teeth start developing before a baby is born and will normally start to come through when an infant is between 6 and 12 months old.
Baby teething symptoms – Baby teeth sometimes emerge with no pain or discomfort at all. At other times, you may notice:
- their gum is sore and red where the tooth is coming through
- they have a mild temperature of less than 38C
- they have 1 flushed cheek
- they have a rash on their face
- they’re rubbing their ear
- they’re dribbling more than usual
- they’re gnawing and chewing on things a lot
- they’re more fretful than usual
- they’re not sleeping very well
By age three, a complete set of milk teeth should be in place, helping shape their mouth for permanent teeth and even guiding them into position. Still, it will be a while yet until any of these precious milk teeth begin to fall out, and their permanent teeth appear. Keeping this first set healthy is key to paving the way for their permanent teeth to come through straight and to stay strong once they do.
Around age five or six, your child’s permanent teeth will start to come through – causing their 20 milk teeth to fall out one by one and be replaced with much larger and stronger adult teeth.
Some children lose their first tooth as early as 4 or as late as 7. Generally, the younger the child was when the teeth came in, the earlier they fall out. If your child begins to lose teeth before 4, consult a dentist to make sure there’s no underlying problem. It’s also possible for a child to reach age 7 or 8 without losing any baby teeth. There’s probably nothing wrong, but it never hurts to check in with your child’s dentist to make sure.
Encourage your child to gently wiggle a wobbly tooth. (Some loose teeth can actually be rotated because the root underneath has almost completely disintegrated.) Remind your child not to yank a tooth before it’s ready to fall out on its own because it makes the broken root more vulnerable to infection.
If your 6- or 7-year-old complains of soreness in the back of his mouth, it’s probably the first permanent molars coming in. (He has no baby teeth there to fall out first).
By the age of 12, most children have all their adult teeth except for their third molars (wisdom teeth), which appear around 18-20 years.