Your Child’s Teeth: Good Brushing, Bad Foods, and More!

By Jennifer Klam

You can tell a lot about someone by the health of their mouth. New research suggests that the health of your mouth mirrors the health of your body as a whole. Good oral health may actually prevent certain diseases from occurring, while poor oral hygiene can actually lead to other complications, including digestion problems and problems with the heart and other major organs. That's why it's so important to teach children good habits when it comes to caring for their teeth.

Teaching Kids Good Dental Habits

Here are some tips to help you put your kids on a lifelong path to good oral hygiene:

  • Have your child brush for at least two minutes, at least twice a day.

  • Once teeth are touching, start flossing once a day.

  • Kids can start brushing their teeth with help from a grown-up around age two or three. Kids are usually ready to brush on their own when they can tie their shoes. However, they probably still need some encouragement to do it right, and won't be able to floss on their own until around age 10.

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

  • Be sure to use a soft toothbrush designed for kids. Brushes with smaller heads will clean better in smaller mouths.

  • Use an electric toothbrush with a built-in timer, or a manual one that flashes for two minutes.

  • Change the toothbrush every three months, or sooner if it shows excessive wear. Let smaller children choose their own toothbrush at the store.

  • Until she can brush on her own, guide your child's hand so she can feel the correct movement.

  • Dentists suggest parents supervise their child's brushing technique up until the age of 8.

  • Get a toothpaste flavor your child will like. This will encourage him to brush longer and better.

Healthy Teeth Diet

  • Limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks to mealtimes.

  • Limit sugary snacks.

  • Always dilute fruit juice with water. Most fruit juices have a high level of acidity that erodes the teeth, dissolving the enamel and leeching away calcium and other minerals.

  • If you give children fruit juices or soda, encourage them to use a straw, directed to the back of the mouth. This will minimize the amount of contact the acid has with teeth.

  • Immediately after brushing, make sure children only have water to drink. Teeth are more vulnerable to erosion right after brushing.

  • Avoid foods such as sticky and hard candies, caramel, dried fruits, cookies and starchy foods like white bread, potato chips and French fries. These items tend to stay in the mouth longer, clinging to tooth surfaces and crevices, trapping sugar on the teeth. Brush right after eating these foods if possible.

Braces and Retainers: Some Extra Care Measures

  • After regular brushing, children with braces should brush the crevices around teeth with a proxabrush, or tiny cone-shaped "Christmas tree" brush. This brush is specially designed for cleaning between two braces.

  • You may want to get your child with braces a fluoride mouthwash, which can reach places in the mouth that a toothbrush can't.

  • Your child's retainer should be brushed every time she brushes her teeth. Once a day, or at least once a week, you should disinfect your child's retainer by soaking it in some mouthwash or denture cleanser. The retainer should be thoroughly rinsed before and after wearing.

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