There’s not much about tiny teeth that is at all pleasing–the teething pain, the nipple biting, the chewing on expensive, pre-baby furniture, and, of course, the brushing.  Every parent has that am-I-even-doing-this-right moment while jabbing a banana-shaped toothbrush into their tot’s mouth, so we thought it time to get a game plan in place.  For the scoop, we went straight to the expert–  James Ratcliff, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Rowpar Pharmaceuticals, maker of the ClōSYS brand of toothpaste, oral rinses, and oral sprays.  Let’s get right to it:

What should the brushing routine look like during the first year?
Baby teeth begin to erupt at 6 months and are complete by 2.5 years. Unfortunately, tooth eruption makes gums sore and inflamed, leading to unhappy babies. Use a gentle child’s toothbrush as the bristles are designed to be kind to inflamed tissues.

Baby teeth are softer than permanent ones, making them more susceptible to cavities. A full set of teeth is not only necessary to chewing, but also to learning correct pronunciation.  Diet is the key to healthy teeth; limit sugar and starchy foods. 

Brushing baby teeth with plain water using a soft toothbrush removes plaque, massages gums, and keeps kids healthy.  Brush all sides of the four quadrants of the mouth: upper and lower, right and left, inside and outside. Practicing good oral care early on sets patterns for a lifetime.

When should a child begin to see the dentist for exams and cleanings?
Schedule the first dental exam after the baby’s first birthday. Remember, for kids and adults, plaque is not fully removed by brushing and rinsing alone.  The dentist or hygienist can remove plaque and tartar, reducing the risk of cavities. Some toothpastes, like ClōSYS, slow the regrowth of plaque as well as strengthens enamel. Ask the dentist how often to visit, as plaque build-up varies from one baby to the next.

When considering dental exams and cleaning, it is important to remember that all efforts by the dentist to combat cavities and gum disease will fail without a regular, twice daily regime of home oral care, including brushing and rinsing.  

Healthy diet, check.  Twice day regime check.  What does the ideal brushing scenario look like as a baby becomes a toddler?
The two points of emphasis for toddlers are to (1) not to swallow toothpaste and (2) to brush for 2 minutes.  Using a timer can help get them in this habit. When introducing fluoride toothpaste, always consult with your dentist or doctor first.

Ah, let’s chat fluoride.  Is it safe for the toddler set?
At age 2, children can begin using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.  Fluoride toothpaste will strengthen enamel and protect from cavities.  Choose a gentle toothpaste that does not contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) as it is known to inflame tissues and cause oral sores. Again, consult a dentist or doctor before using fluoride toothpaste with children under 2 years of age.

What if a child is still swallowing a bit of toothpaste?
Proper brushing and rinsing procedures include not swallowing toothpaste. Regardless of whether the toothpaste is fluoride-free or with fluoride, less than 10% of the paste is swallowed inadvertently.  Be sure to read “Drug Facts” on the label and follow the instructions when using fluoride toothpaste.

So there’s major parent involvement in learning the basics of brushing.  At what age should children be brushing independently?
By age 6 or 7, your children should be able to brush their teeth on their own.  It is still a good idea to supervise brushing to make sure that they are spending enough time (2 minutes) to brush all four quadrants inside and out. 

When should flossing be introduced?
Parents should begin helping their children use dental floss and/or interdental brushes between ages 2 to 6, and children should be flossing on their own by age 10. 

Bacteria convert food, debris, and sugars into a slimy substance called dental plaque.  It grows along the gum lines and between teeth.  Getting food and debris and plaque from between teeth is difficult—that’s where dental floss comes in.  Interdental brushes also reach between teeth and can be dipped in fluoride toothpaste before use to increase prevention and effectiveness. 

Thanks, James!