How to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

February is Children’s Dental Health Month, and we are brushing up on tips for healthy teeth, and examining the causes of halitosis, or bad breath.

What is halitosis and how can you avoid it?

Some bacteria in the mouth are odor-producing, which can lead to halitosis (bad breath.) If you don’t floss and brush regularly, these bacteria can build up. Mouthwash is a temporary fix, but if you do choose to use one, opt for an antiseptic one, which kills the germs that cause bad breath. A plaque-reducing mouth wash should have a seal of approval from the American Dental Association. For small children use an alcohol-free mouthwash. Your dentist can provide specific recommendations.

What is the cause of bad breath if you are brushing twice per day? There can be many reasons, but you may not be brushing long enough, says Dr. Richard Mungo, chair of pediatric dentistry at CHOC Children’s. Each brushing should last for two minutes, but the average person only brushes for about 45 seconds, Mungo says. Try setting a timer for the full amount of time or using one of the many Apps that are available on the internet to help children brush longer and have fun. Using electric toothbrushes are another way to ensure a proper brushing, he says. Electric brushes can be more efficient and many are programmed to stay on for the required two minutes, assuring a good brushing of all surfaces.

how to get kids to brush their teeth
Dr. Richard Mungo, chair of pediatric dentistry at CHOC Children’s

If bad breath persists despite proper brushings and flossing and regular trips to the pediatric dentist, your child may have post nasal drip or other sinus problems, contributing to the halitosis. If there are cavities present or inflamed gums, these difficulties must be attended to. Consult your pediatric dentist or pediatrician who can determine if something else is causing the bad breath.

How to get kids to brush their teeth:

It can be tricky to get kids to brush and floss regularly, but building healthy oral hygiene habits early in life is important. Dr. Mungo offers tips to getting little ones on board with brushing and flossing:

  • Play your child’s favorite song while they are brushing to get them used to brushing for the full two minutes.
  • Be a good example. If your children see you brushing and flossing regularly, they are more likely to model your behavior.
  • Let children choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste, from choices recommended by your dentist.
  • Create a positive attitude towards going to the dentist. Your child’s first visit should be at age one, or when the first tooth erupts into the mouth. That first early visit will introduce you to proper oral health care, emergency services that are available and proper dietary concerns for your children. Children can often pick up on parents’ anxiety, so be a good actor when present with the child, so they can be comfortable and confident that going to the dentist is fun.

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Developing Healthy Dental Habits in Children with Special Needs

Helping your child develop a dental hygiene routine can be complicated if other medical conditions are present. Dental care is the most common unmet need among children with special needs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In honor of Children’s Dental Health Month, Richard Mungo, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist and chair of pediatric dentistry at CHOC Children’s, offers tips on dental health to parents of children with special needs.

Mungo, Richard

“The most important thing for parents to remember is that dental health is an essential part of their child’s overall health,” Mungo says. “It’s not something extra. It’s an essential part of their overall wellbeing.”

Children with special needs can have a higher incidence of cavities and oral problems because it’s harder to brush their teeth, says Mungo. Cavities are bacterial infections that if left untreated could spread to other parts of the body that may already be compromised by preexisting conditions.

Introducing Children to the Dentist

Children with special needs may experience extra levels of anxiousness related to visiting the dentist. Mungo encourages parents to help in desensitizing patients to the new environment:

  • Bring a favorite toy, or an iPad and headphones to make your child feel comfortable and remind them of home
  • Schedule appointments at the part of the day when your child feels best.
  • In scheduling, attempt to have the same exam room and personnel available for each appointment to create a comfortable pattern and sense of routine

Finding the Right Pediatric Dentist

Your child’s pediatrician is a good source for recommendations on pediatric dentists who work with children with special needs, says Mungo. The pediatric dental staff can help you create a daily dental care routine that is specifically tailored to your child, including the right type of adaptive toothbrush that meets their needs.  Healthy Smiles of OC, in partnership with CHOC, is another resource. Funded in part by the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, Healthy Smiles is working with community pediatricians, pediatric dentists and schools to bring dental treatment, education and preventative care to the medically underserved community.

Protect Your Little One’s Smile

 

I bet you didn’t know that in addition to Heart Month, February is also National Children’s Dental Health Month! This is a great time to teach your kiddos about the importance of oral health. Developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dentist visits can help children stay on track in maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Check out the tips below, recommended by Richard Mungo, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at CHOC Children’s:

  • Take your child to the dentist by the time he or she is 12 months old – or as soon as he or she gets his or her first tooth.
  • After each feeding, wipe your infants tongue and gums with a wet cloth.
  • When the first tooth appears, begin brushing with water, or an appropriate baby toothpaste. Toothpaste with fluoride is not recommended until your child is old enough to spit and swallow the toothpaste – around age 3.
  • Come up with, or play, a fun song for your kids while they are brushing their teeth to get them used to brushing for a full 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Remind your kids not to eat sugary foods between meals.
  • Instruct them on the proper way to floss – Carefully insert the floss between two teeth, using a back and forth motion. Gently bring the floss to the gumline, but don’t force it under the gums. Curve the floss around the edge of your tooth in the shape of the letter “C” and slide it up and down the side of each tooth.
  • When brushing, have your kids hold their brush at a 45-degree angle against their gumline. Gently brush from where the tooth and gum meet to the chewing surface in short strokes. Brushing too hard can cause receding gums or tooth sensitivity.
  • Lastly, create a calm, positive attitude about going to the dentist. Children can pick up on a parent’s anxiety and associate the dentist with a negative experience.

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