By: Amy Requa, MSN, CRNP
Did you know that October is National Dental Hygiene Month? It’s actually good timing, especially since children will be chowing down on their fair share of candy this weekend! The extra candy gives us an even better reason to think more about brushing teeth! Many parents of young children ask: “What is the best method for brushing my child’s teeth?” Well, often a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few photographs of different positions and methods that parents and caregivers can use to help young children with toothbrushing!
Photos courtesy of Joanna Douglass, BDS, DDS
In the photo on the left, the adult sits in a chair while brushing the child’s teeth from behind. The child stands and leans back on the caregiver’s lap, using the adult’s legs for balance. See how the adult carefully stabilizes the child’s head, gently lifting or lightly pressing the lips away from the teeth with one hand, while brushing the teeth with the other? This actually makes it much easier for the adult to brush all surfaces of the teeth while the child still feels secure and won’t squirm away. Looking down at the child’s mouth from behind makes the child’s teeth more accessible to the brush, especially at the gum line where sticky plaque is most likely to build up in that space between the teeth and the gums. The plaque is the build up of sticky germs mixing with food/drink on all the surfaces of the teeth. Plaque eventually breaks down tooth enamel if it is allowed to stay on the teeth. The plaque on the surfaces of the teeth needs to be brushed away twice a day: in the morning and at night, right before your child goes to bed.
In the photo on the right, this toddler is allowed to stand up, probably on the couch, while the mom holds the child’s hands during brushing. After all, who says you have to brush your child’s teeth standing in front of the sink in the bathroom? You don’t! Use a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste and your child does not need to spit it out, so you can brush your child’s teeth anywhere in your home, maybe when your child is sitting in her highchair, playing in the bathtub, or joining you on the couch.
Here are the most current guidelines from the American Dental Association:
- For children younger than 3 years, caregivers should begin brushing children’s teeth, with a soft child-sized toothbrush, as soon as teeth begin to come into the mouth. Use a fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice.
- Brush teeth thoroughly twice per day (morning and night) or as directed by a dentist or physician.
- For children 3 to 6 years of age, caregivers should apply no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to the soft toothbrush.
- Adults should assist with toothbrushing until age 7 or 8.
- Replace toothbrushes when bristles appear worn (usually after 3-6 months)
How old were your children when you started to brush their teeth? Did they enjoy it? Have any tips to share on how you brushed their teeth?
Fluoride toothpaste efficacy and safety in children younger than 6 years: A systematic review. J. Timothy Wright, Nicholas Hanson, Helen Ristic, Clifford W. Whall, Cameron G. Estrich and Ronald R. Zentz, JADA 2014; 145(2):182-189.
Fluoride Toothpaste Use for Young Children, American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs, JADA 2014; 145(2):190-191.
About the Author:Amy Requa, MSN, CRNP, CPNP-PC, is a board certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She has 20 years of experience in public health nursing, maternal and child health, family and community health promotion and has extensive health expertise in oral health, childhood obesity prevention and child nutrition. Click here to learn more about Amy.