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Brushing & Flossing Teeth

by Dr. Mandar V. Bichu
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Here are answers to some common but important questions about brushing and flossing teeth.

When should I begin cleaning my child’s teeth/oral cavity?

  • Even before teeth begin appearing, you should start cleaning the mouth to keep food residue and bacteria from damaging newly erupting teeth.
  • For infants as early as third month, the gums, inner mouth and the space between gums and mouth should be cleaned with a sweeping motion of a wet finger or a “finger brush”.
  • Later after the teeth erupt, after every feeding, wipe the baby’s teeth and gums with a damp soft cloth to remove harmful plaque. You can sit on the sofa with the baby’s head in your lap or lay the baby on the floor or changing table to make sure you can easily see in to the baby’s mouth.
  • If plaque is allowed to build on the baby’s teeth, the tooth enamel could become decayed. If the decay is left untreated, the primary teeth may be prematurely lost. Children need all 20 of their primary teeth for proper eating, speaking, and appearance. These teeth also reserve space in the jaw for the permanent teeth that later erupt. A complete set of healthy primary teeth allows proper development of a child’s jaw and face.
  • You should begin brushing and flossing your child’s teeth after each meal or snack and before bedtime when all the primary teeth have erupted—usually when the child is between 2 and 3 year old.

What exactly is dental plaque?

Plaque is a thin yellow or colorless film formed over the teeth. Bacteria inside the mouth secrete sticky chemicals (mucopolysaccharides) to form this film and then they live inside it.

Plaque can be brushed or flossed away easily. If it is not regularly cleaned, then the bacteria staying inside the film secrete acids and destroy enamel and dentin. This leads to tooth cavities.

Accumulated plaque can harden over a period and form Tartar, which causes gum disease (Gingivitis). Tartar cannot be brushed or flossed away; it needs to be professionally cleaned by the dentist.

At what age should my child be able to brush his teeth?

  • Cleaning the mouth requires some skill. By age 2, your child will be learning to handle a toothbrush and may imitate you. By age 4 or 5, children often are able to brush by themselves.
  • Flossing should be done by parents from toddler years.
  • However, until your child reaches about age 8, you will need to supervise and provide assistance in brushing and flossing to make sure your child is doing a thorough job.
  • With your guidance, your children should be able to do a thorough job of brushing and flossing on their own by about age 8 or 9.
  • It’s a good idea to periodically check whether they are brushing and flossing effectively by using disclosing agents. Disclosing agents color the plaque so that is can be seen. When the stained plaque is removed by brushing and flossing, you and your children will know their teeth are clean.

Which kind of toothpastes and tooth-brushes can I use for my baby/ child?

Special toothpastes are now formulated with 100% ingestible ingredients, without preservatives for infants and toddlers.

Finger Toothbrush and gum massager are gentler than the softest toothbrush. They can be worn on mother’s finger. They are made of rubber and can be used as early as the third month.

Later, ask your dentist to recommend a toothbrush for your child. Generally a brush with soft, end-rounded or polished bristles is recommended because it’s less likely to injure the gums. Children often need smaller brushes than those designed for adults.

Toothbrushes must be replaced when the bristles because bent or frayed, usually every 3 months. Preschoolers often wear out toothbrushes quickly because they brush imperfectly and chew on the brush. Inspect your child’s brush often; worn-out bristles do not remove plaque effectively.

How to brush teeth?

What are the general tips for brushing?

  • Use toothbrush with soft, rounded bristles.
  • Place a pea-sized amount of baby/child-specific toothpaste on the wet bristles.
  • Smooth, circular strokes to clean upper, lower, outer and inner surfaces of all the teeth.
  • Minimum 2 minutes brushing time.
  • Rinse mouth well; before and after brushing.
  • Minimum 2 times brushing- once in the morning after getting up and once in the night before bedtime. (Ideally teeth should be brushed after each meal. Make sure that mouth is rinsed well after each meal.)
  • Change toothbrush every 3 months. Do it even earlier if the bristles become bent or frayed.
  • Consider electric power-brush in older children. Discuss with your dentist first to know the correct technique of using electric brush.

What is the importance of flossing?

  • In simple words, Flossing is cleaning the teeth and gums with a strand/string.
  • “Flossing reaches where your brush cannot” – is the key to healthy teeth and gums.
  • Developing countries like India are quite unaware of the facts of flossing. Parental ignorance, lack of family tradition and avoidance of dental visits are to be blamed for this.
  • Dental flossing removes plaque from in between the teeth; and from the space between the teeth and the gum margins.
  • There are a variety of types of floss ranging from thin unwaxed strands to thicker waxed tapes. Floss holders and newer devices are also available.

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