Q: When and how do I start cleaning my baby’s teeth?
A: Start wiping your little one’s gums with a damp face cloth while he has that adorable toothless grin. As soon as the first tooth pokes out, at about six months, it’s time to use a brush. Bundle your little guy up in a receiving blanket and lay him back so you can keep his wiggly parts down and see inside his mouth.
Q: When can my child brush her own teeth?
A: Kids can practise brushing as soon as they show an interest, but they can’t do a good job until they’re at least eight. Sit or stand your child at the bathroom sink, looking at her as you brush. Or gently guide her hand to show her the motion. Cover all the bases: biting surfaces, both sides of the teeth, roof of the mouth and tongue.
Q: Does my five-year-old really need to floss?
A: It’s time to pull out the floss as soon as there are no gaps between teeth, usually by about 18 months. Again, lay your child back so you can see inside his mouth and gently floss. Kids need help with this until around age 10; if your child resists your help, let her do it, but supervise to make sure it looks right, or take turns flossing.
Q: When can my child use toothpaste with fluoride?
A: Start fluoride toothpaste after your child’s third birthday. But teach her to use a pea-sized amount and to spit it out — even if it tastes like berries. Note though, that with large percentage of kids under five are getting cavities, some dentists may recommend fluoride at an earlier age.
Q: Are dental sealants safe and recommended?
A: Yes, but not all children need sealants. Kids with a history of cavities or deep grooves in their teeth benefit most from sealants. (Concerned about bisphenol A, found in some sealants? The Canadian Dental Association says exposure is minimal and short-term — just the first few hours or days.)
Q: My preteen wants to whiten his teeth — is this OK?
A: Your budding Romeo should wait until his mid- to late teens before he starts bleaching because, in the long run, the practice can increase teeth sensitivity.
Q: My daughter grinds her teeth. Help!
A: Most small children grind their teeth, and thankfully, this habit usually passes once their permanent teeth come in. Unless there’s excessive wear on the teeth (see your dentist to confirm), scratch this off your worry list for the under-six crowd.
Q: How often should kids brush?
A: Twice a day for at least two minutes. And keep cavity-causing culprits to a minimum: sugary, carbohydrate-loaded snacks, excessive juice consumption and the dentist’s nemesis — pop.
Thanks to Sarah Hulland, who runs ABC Pediatric Dentistry in Calgary and is the past president of the Canadian Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
5 Tooth Truths
1. Nibbling on cheese between meals helps neutralize acids that eat away at teeth.
2. Among American kids, tooth decay is five times as common as asthma, and seven times as common as hay fever.
3. Why floss? Brushing alone leaves 35 percent of each tooth’s surface untouched.
4. Wearing a sports mouth guard reduces the odds of injury to the mouth and lower face by 60 percent.
5. Between 1984 and 2008, the number of North Americans getting orthodontic treatment nearly doubled, from 2.5 million to 4.68 million. In 2008, 78 percent of orthodontic patients — 3.78 million — were under 17.