I wish I had a dollar for every time my kids swear they've brushed their teeth, but a breath or brush check says otherwise (a toothbrush shouldn't be bone-dry five minutes after you use it, kids). But I suppose I shouldn't complain; after all, I'm sure I've been guilty of missing a key spot when brushing a child's teeth. No one's perfect, right?
From the moment that first tiny pearl breaks through a baby's gums, it's on us parents to make sure those teeth stay clean. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that parents brush their children's teeth or supervise their children's toothbrushing twice a day from the time the first tooth appears until age 8.
But even parents who are conscientious about cleaning their kids' teeth may miss a crucial area. "Parents tend to miss the back side of the upper and lower front teeth (the incisors)," Joe Castellano, DDS, president of the AAPD, tells Romper. He adds that it's an easy area to miss because us parents tend to focus on the fronts of the teeth and the biting surfaces of the molars when we clean our children's mouths.
Missing a spot when you brush can have serious consequences, too According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five children age 5-11 have at least one decayed tooth that hasn't been treated by a dentist.
With that in mind, pay special attention to the inside area of your child's front teeth when you brush. Position the top of the brush near the gumline and brush upward with a flicking motion for the bottom teeth, then repeat with a downward motion for the top teeth. Use a circular motion to clean the outside of your child's teeth, making sure to include the gumline.
When children start to brush their own teeth, Dr. Castellano adds, parents should still supervise. The one spot kids miss when they brush, he says, is "the upper cheek side (buccal area) of the teeth on the side of the hand they brush with. It's really hard for them to get at that angle sometimes, because they don't have the dexterity to do it."
Another area kids often miss, according to Dr. Castellano, is the tongue side of the lower teeth, "especially the lower molar areas." So even after your child has finished brushing, it's a good idea to take the brush and go over the trouble spots.
Here are some additional tips on caring for your child's teeth:
- Brush your child's teeth with a soft, child-sized toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that for children 3 and under you only need a rice-grain-sized dab of toothpaste. For kids over 3, use a pea-sized amount.
- Regardless of whether you or your child is doing the brushing, do it for at least two minutes twice a day, says Dr. Castellano. Using a fun character-themed brush or a battery-operated spin brush may encourage your child to brush longer.
- Continue to brush or supervise brushing until your child is at least 8 years old. "A good rule of thumb is that when the child can tie their own shoes, they can usually brush their teeth on their own," says Dr. Castellano.
- According to the ADA, Once your child's teeth begin to touch you should add flossing to your brushing routine. Disposable plastic flossers may be easier to use than string floss.
- Don't use mouthwash before age 6 or so, warns Dr. Castellano, since a child may not be able to spit it out properly. Resist the temptation to swap out mouthwash for brushing, too. "There really is no substitute for brushing," says Dr. Castellano. "It is the best way to remove food and plaque from the teeth."
- Brush after eating sticky foods that can catch in your child's teeth (crackers and raisins are two main culprits). And never let your child go to bed with a bottle of milk or juice. According to WebMD, this can cause "baby bottle tooth decay" because of the sugar in the liquids that clings to a child's teeth all night long.
Keeping your children healthy and safe is a lot of work, to be sure, but following these simply brushing trips and tricks can help make sure your little one has healthy teeth and gums that'll last them a lifetime.