63ºF

Kids' dental hygiene: Are we doing it all wrong?

Time to reevaluate what you thought you knew about kids, their teeth, CDC says

In news that will surprise exactly zero parents, it turns out that children aren’t very good at brushing their own teeth -- for example, they're likely using way too much toothpaste, according to a new report.

But what can parents do about it? That's the real question.

Well, according to the report, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month, caregivers likely need to intervene earlier. The dental hygiene routine needs to start at a younger age than parents probably imagine, and moms and dads need to be the ones to dole out the toothpaste, for starters.

So what do you do with an unruly 3-year-old who insists, "I do it MYSELF!"? That's the tricky part with these new recommendations. Parents might be fighting an uphill battle.

Getting back to that report, it touches on three main topics: The age that children start getting into a regular routine, the role that fluoride plays, and how much toothpaste should be used. Just by reading the findings and delving into the recommendations, parents should be able to help right the ship -- over time of course, to anyone with a stubborn toddler.

First things first: When to start brushing those tiny teeth

“Brushing children’s teeth is recommended when the first tooth erupts, as early as 6 months, and the first dental visit should occur no later than age 1 year,” the report says.

OK, then. If that sounds daunting to parents with babies, it’s worth noting that the first trip to the dentist doesn’t usually involve a cleaning -- unless your 1-year-old will sit still for that sort of thing (and we don’t know many who will).

Typically, the dentist just wants to take a peek around and make sure everything looks OK in a child’s mouth. To anyone who has questions about the process, it’s always best to call your dentist and ask about what his or her official policy or recommendation is, and see if that sounds reasonable for you and your family.

And when it comes to fluoride ...

Ingesting too much while the teeth are still developing “can result in visibly detectable changes in enamel structure such as discoloration and pitting.”

Pitting, which is also called dental fluorosis, is not something parents would want for their children. In mild to severe cases, it means the teeth are physically damaged.

The translation here: The CDC recommends that children begin using fluoride toothpaste at age 2 -- and no sooner.

Speaking of toothpaste, parents should make sure their children aren’t using too much

Kids who are 3 or older are advised to use a pea-sized amount, and children 3 or younger should only use a smear the size of a rice grain, the CDC report said.

A grain of rice. Think about how small that is.

The CDC surveyed parents and guardians of more than 5,000 children for the report, and found that nearly 40 percent of children ages 3 to 6 are using way more toothpaste than necessary. And remember, most toothpastes have fluoride in them, so by using too much, children might be damaging their enamel and doing some harm.

Finally, the CDC said that in the pool of children it studied, nearly 80 percent of children ages 3 to 15 years started brushing later than recommended.

“Parents and caregivers can play a role in ensuring that children are brushing often enough and using the recommended amount of toothpaste,” the report notes.

It goes on to say how important it is that parents supervise young children during brushing and monitor their fluoride ingestion.

What do you say? Will you start watching a little closer as your children brush? Let us know in the comments.


About the Author: