“The parameters of behaviour you instil early on make a huge difference for children,” says Hulland.
April is Oral Health Month, dedicated to educating Canadians about the importance of good oral hygiene and its connection to overall wellness. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of oral care for every stage in childhood.
“At this young age it’s about forming habits,” says Mary Bertone, a board member for the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Bertone also educates parenting groups through her work with the Centre for Community Oral Health at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Wipe down your baby’s mouth with a soft cloth several times a day after feeding, she says. Once the first tooth erupts, clean it twice a day with a finger brush. There’s no need for toothpaste, just gently rub the bristles around any teeth.
The CDA encourages parents to book a baby’s first dental visit within six months of the first tooth appearing, or by the first birthday. And never, ever send your baby to bed with a soother dipped in honey or with a bottle of milk – breastmilk, cow’s milk and formula all contain sugars that will linger in the child’s mouth. A bottle or sippy cup of water is OK.
All primary teeth come in during this stage so it’s important parents brush them twice daily using an age- appropriate soft-bristle toothbrush. Brush in small circles on the tops of the teeth, in the molar grooves and along the gum line, including where the tongue rests. Use a rice-grain- sized amount of children’s fluoride toothpaste only if your child has been deemed at risk for ECC. (Factors include genetic predisposition for tooth decay, still feeding on demand or consuming sugary snacks between meals.) This tiny amount of fluoride is too small to swallow, but it’s enough to stay on the teeth, says Bertone; if you’re unsure, ask your dentist.
If your tot resists brushing, persevere. You can try listening to music or watching TV during brush time. Make a game of it by letting your child brush your teeth if she lets you brush hers. If that fails, it’s OK to force her. “It won’t cause them a lifetime of trauma,” says Hulland. She compares it to changing a diaper. You wouldn’t put your toddler to bed with a dirty diaper; not brush- ing is putting your child to bed with dirty teeth, she says.
At this age children can start brushing their teeth on their own, but they still need help. Use “checking for sugar bugs” as an excuse to assist with brushing thoroughly in the morning and before bed, says Bertone. If you haven’t already started, start using fluoride toothpaste and up the amount to pea-sized if your child can spit well. Remember to regularly check the teeth along the gum line for white, chalky lines or discoloured areas that could indicate tooth decay.
“When all their teeth are in – and if their teeth are touching – introduce flossing,” says Bertone. Parents will need to do the flossing; try a floss pick (also called flossers).
Finally, be mindful of kids’ snacking: avoid sugary treats and sticky fruit skins and stick to water between meals.
School age (6+)