Unfortunately, it’s actually NOT a question I get asked often enough! I usually ask my pint-sized patients directly who is brushing their teeth (I’ve got their natural born honesty on my side!) and although they are full of pride, it’s too bad that many three and four-year-olds say they are brushing all by themselves. While a four-year-old is certainly not ready to take over doing all their own brushing and flossing (yes, flossing!) by themselves, you don’t have to continue doing it for them until they walk down the aisle either. The Canadian Dental Association(CDA) recommends that parents start cleaning their child’s mouth even before they have teeth. Around 6-8 months of age, infants naturally become more orally curious and put everything they see in their mouths for this reason. This is a great time to ensure an oral health routine is established, even if it’s just wiping the gum pads before bed nightly. Most parents already have a bedtime routine established for their babies, so it’s a great time to incorporate oral hygiene into your nightly ritual. Good habits created at an early age help you fight against toddler resistance to brushing their teeth later in life.
Once Teeth Arrive..
Once teeth arrive, you can continue wiping the surfaces of the teeth with a washcloth and transition to a special toddler soft-bristled toothbrush. Until the age of two, water is all that is needed twice a day to clean the teeth. Fluoride-free training toothpastes are available, but they are not necessary.
Ages Two to Three
Between ages two and three, introduction of a fluoridated toothpaste is appropriate (look for the CDA seal of approval) into the morning and bedtime routine. If your child is not yet a good spitter, wipe out excess toothpaste with a damp cloth or a clean piece of guaze. It’s important to talk to your dentist about each individual child’s needs. Start flossing once 2 teeth are seen in the mouth next to eachother, especially the back molars once they appear (usually between age 2 and 3). The goal is to pass the floss between these teeth to break their contact to get rid of any food particles that may be stuck between their teeth after brushing.
Start Transitioning Around 6…
…but there’s a catch! If your child has already had a cavity by this time, I strongly recommend parents continue the routine (especially night time brushing and flossing) for the child until cavity-free appointments have been reached at the dental office. You know your child best, so if their dexterity is not fantastic or if they ate something high in sugar content that day, it doesn’t hurt to give them a helping hand.
It’s All About Early Good Habits
When good habits are formed early, the nighttime battles of children not wanting to let you brush and floss their teeth are more easily won. And I just might be one of those parents who WILL floss their kids’ teeth till they get married (or at least until they go on their first date!)