Each year, your kids learn and grow, mastering the skills they learn in school and at home; and each consecutive year, they pass another grade level to take on life’s next challenges. The same principle applies when it comes to teaching your children appropriate dental hygiene. Just as you wouldn’t teach a toddler calculus, so would you be surprised if a parent still brushed their teenager’s teeth for them. With this guide, you can learn the most age-appropriate oral health practices to keep your kids learning and help them maintain a lifetime of dental hygiene.
As with most things when you’re raising an infant, parents or guardians should be responsible for their baby’s dental routine. Between your baby’s first 4-6 months, their first teeth may begin to erupt. Most dentists agree that, where there are teeth, so should there be dental checkups; within your baby’s first 6 months, be sure to see a dentist to begin your child’s oral care. Your dentist will guide you in properly cleaning and caring for your baby’s teeth, and will instruct you on good dental habits to form at home.
years 2 and 3, most if not all of your child’s baby teeth will come in. Once your baby turns 2, you can begin to brush their teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and a soft, small toothbrush. As your child is ready, you may teach them how to brush their own teeth. Start with helping them spit when you brush their teeth; then, allow them to hold the toothbrush as you guide their arm. You may continue flossing their teeth, as this requires more dexterity, which is developed at a different rate for different children.
By 7-8 years old, your child should be brushing their teeth by themselves without supervision. However, some children may still lack the fine motor skills required to effectively floss. If your child is ready for their next step, consider purchasing floss guides or picks, which can be found at most pharmacies and grocery stores. These are easier for small hands to hold, and may allow your child to feel more independent while still ensuring that they’re flossing properly.
Many dentists (and parents) cite this time period as the age that children are capable of proper dental hygiene, but tend to lose interest in it. In order to keep your child routinely brushing and flossing, try offering short-term rewards like praise or 5 minutes of extra play time before bed; or long-term rewards for ongoing good dental behavior, such as a new toy or a trip to their favorite park or restaurant. Teaching your child the importance of consistency in their dental hygiene routines will help them build associations between good oral health and good things in their lives.
By now, your child is a pro at dental hygiene practices. These are important years to continue monitoring your child’s hygiene routines, as many children at this age understand the importance of self-care, but may never have experienced a cavity or another dental issue. Don’t let your child become complacent in their oral health; just because they’ve never had a problem doesn’t meant they never will.
At each stage of life, listen to your child’s feedback about their dental hygiene methods. If you’ve given them an advanced task, you may see them become frustrated or resistant to oral care; however, if their dental routine is easy, they can become bored and negligent. Above all, teaching your child attention to and consistency with their dental routine will ensure that their mouths are healthy for the rest of their lives.