Kids Oral Health Series – How to Encourage Age-Appropriate Dental Habits at Home

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Kids Oral Health Series – How to Encourage Age-Appropriate Dental Habits at Home

The best kind of checkup is a cavity-free checkup. Moms and dads can help make this happen by encouraging kids to brush twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day. Of course the approach to dental care shifts as your children age. Your approach to your child’s brushing habits may work at one age and not another. According to the ADA there are different ways to convince your child to brush and develop healthy habits depending on their age. Read on for age appropriate guidelines for children’s dental and oral health care.

Oral Health for Kids Ages 6 and Under

When age should kids start brushing their teeth?

According to KidsHealth.org, good dental care begins before a baby’s first tooth appears. Teeth begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy which means that at birth, your baby has 20 primary teeth, some of which are fully developed in the jaw. They recommend the following for oral care routines for kids 6 and under:

  • Even before your baby starts teething, run a clean, damp washcloth over the gums to clear away harmful bacteria.
  • Once your baby gets teeth, brush them with an infant toothbrush and toothpaste formulated for babies and children.
  • Once your baby’s teeth touch, you can begin flossing in between them.
  • Around age 2, your child should learn to spit while brushing. Avoid giving your child water to swish and spit because this might make swallowing toothpaste more likely.
  • Kids ages 3 and up should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Kids 4-5 will start to be more independent and tooth brushing may lose its novelty when they want to do other things.
  • Kids 5-6 need supervision to brush properly. Teaching them how to brush their new teeth is critical while encouraging them to develop good habits. At this age independence rears its head and they may fight to brush alone. If this is the case allow them to start, than jump in to help as needed. Supervise kids this age as they are more likely to swallow toothpaste.

How to motivate your child to brush their teeth

At a young age it can be difficult to get your child to do anything you ask. Brushing teeth is no different. Consider the following motivators to keep your kids on track.

  • Make brushing fun- them with a fun toothbrush that lights up or play a song that lasts two minutes. Here is a teeth brushing playlist.
  • Get them involved- Have them pick out a toothbrush they’re excited about- a character they love or one that lights up while they brush.
  • Compliment and Encourage- Tell them how nice their smile is and how you can see it getting stronger and whiter when they brush.
  • Rewards- Reward good brushing with a sticker chart, and good check-ups with an appropriate reward that will motivate your child.

You can click here for more tips on how to get your child to brush their teeth.

Oral Care for Kids Ages 7-12

By now, your child knows what to do, but they aren’t as encouraged by cause and effect or rewards and may just not want to be bothered. “Did you brush your teeth?” Is a question parents ask several times a day, but it can turn into white noise and feel like nagging. For parents of children with sensory issues who really don’t enjoy the process, it can be a constant struggle. For this age try the following tactics:

  • Encouragement and Positive Reminders- Stay the course! It may seem like your child isn’t responding but by repeating the why-why it is important to brush and have a healthy smile, much in the same way you convince a child to eat vegetables will have an effect in the long run.
  • Reward good check-ups and consistent behavior- Sticker charts to track brushing for younger children with rewards for consistency, or a reward for a cavity free check-up may encourage your child to keep up good brushing/flossing habits. Offer rewards that are meaningful to your child.
  • Supervise as needed- Some kids do well independently while others need reminders to brush longer than ten seconds. You know your child and can decide when it is best to let them brush on their own. Usually this is by aged 9 or 10.


Kids Oral Health Habits Ages 12-18

According to the ADA this is a critical time for dental health. Though research shows most cavities appear in young kids, there is another increase in cavities during the teenage years to early adulthood. Why? There are several possibilities. One is, they may not have had a cavity up to this point and haven’t seen the consequences of poor oral care. Another is that until this point they’ve had parental reminders and help in brushing and now they are expected to be independent. Changes in hormones and acid levels in the mouth may also contribute to cavities. An increase in sugary soft drinks and poorer dietary habits may be a factor. Lastly, many children at this age (or younger) are outfitted with braces or orthodontic appliances that can make it trickier to remove plaque from between teeth and to brush.

  • Limit their exposure to sugary drinks and food as much as possible
  • Compliment their smile- appealing to vanity at an insecure age will probably work better than nagging. Say things like I notice when you brush well or use that other toothpaste how white your teeth are. (White teeth look better on Instagram!)
  • Provide proper tools for braces- If your child has braces, be sure to take them in for regular cleanings and ask your dentist or orthodontist to teach your child about proper cleaning tools and techniques. For example many dentists recommend cleaning tools specifically designed to get under the wires of braces without damaging them. A water flosser can also dislodge food trapped in braces and between teeth.


What age should my child have their first dental appointment?


Your child should have their first dental appointment as early as possible to get them acquainted with going to the dentist. The ADA recommends children have their first visit by the age of one. Having the first visit be a casual comfortable experience, instead of a response to necessary treatment can shape your child’s outlook about future dental visits and encourage them to continue healthy oral habits.

No matter what your child’s age, their oral health can impact their overall health, their confidence, and their smile. Start and model good habits when they’re young and continue to encourage them as they get older. Begin their first dental visits as early as possible and continue them as routinely as possible. Visits to the dental hygienist should also occur frequently as they are able to remove plaque that your child can’t. Have questions or concerns about your child’s oral care? We’re happy to help. Contact us today and get your child started on a smile they can appreciate for years to come.