Health Break | Published June 6, 2005 | Written by Allison Lee Snyder, RN

Dental Hygiene: How To Care For Your Child’s Teeth

Good dental hygiene should begin before your child’s first tooth comes in. Wiping your baby’s gums with a soft damp cloth after feedings helps to prevent the build up of bacteria. When teeth appear, start using a soft children’s toothbrush twice a day. If you have young children like myself, I am sure you will agree that establishing good dental hygiene habits is not an easy task. I have tried a variety of powered toothbrushes and toothpastes to make brushing more fun. Some commonly asked questions are listed below that address caring for your child’s teeth.

Should children use a different toothbrush than adults?
Children should use smaller brushes in proportion to the size of their mouths. Most children use a toothbrush that is too big to be easily maneuvered into the small spaces and that is where cavities like to form. By the way, in addition to changing the toothbrush every three months or when the bristles appear worn, it’s a good idea to toss those brushes after colds or sore throats.

Should children use the same toothpaste as adults? And what about fluoride tablets?
All that you need in your child’s toothpaste is the fluoride that helps strengthen their teeth and protects them from cavities. The time your child should spend brushing and his or her technique are more important, so go with a flavor you think your child will enjoy. Remember only a pea-sized drop of toothpaste on your brush is all that is necessary.

Fluoride helps make teeth strong by hardening the tooth enamel. Fluoride is an important part of your child’s dental health, but don’t give him or her more than the directions call for. If you miss a dose, don’t give your child extra fluoride to make up; too much oral fluoride cancause stains on your child’s teeth.

How many times each day should teeth be brushed? And when?
The two really important times to have your child brush their teeth are in the morning after breakfast and at night before they go to bed. Any extra times that they brush during the day are great, particularly after eating sticky and sugary foods.

When should I start taking my child to the dentist?
The American Dental Association recommends that parents take their child to a dentist around his or her first birthday. This gives the dentist a chance to look for early problems with your child’s teeth. You should review important information about diet, bottles, tooth brushing and fluoride use with your child’s dentist. Visiting the dentist at a young age will help your child become more comfortable with going to the dentist. It also establishes the good habit of regular dental checkups.

Good dental hygiene and caring for your child’s teeth are very important habits to establish early on. Let your children brush their teeth when you brush yours. There are many ways to incorporate fun into brushing if you get creative. Keep in mind the importance of selecting the right toothbrush and toothpaste. Also, remember to take your child to the dentist regularly. You can choose to take your child to a pediatric dentist or check with your general family dentist – most in this area see children as well.

The Centre Volunteers in Medicine hold a “free dental day” twice a year. Please call 231- 4043 or go online at for more information.

Allison Lee Snyder is a performance improvement nurse and also works in the operating room at Mount Nittany Medical Center.