How-to Have Healthy Teeth

Parents often question the right way to care for their children’s teeth.  At what age should they start brushing and flossing?  Which toothbrushes and toothpastes are safe?  And what is the appropriate age to start regular dental check-ups?

   Everyone should brush their teeth twice a day — and this means kids, too!  An adult should assist in brushing until the child has the skills and dexterity to brush efficiently.  A good rule of thumb? When a child can tie her own shoelaces, she can brush her own teeth — usually around 5 or 6 years of age.  

   Try to have fun with teaching kids to brush. Do it together, set a timer for two minutes, then check out their teeth and tell them what a great job they did and how nice and clean their teeth are!

   Set a good example for your kids by showing them that you never, ever use your teeth as a tool for opening lids, chewing on pens, or anything else that may harm your teeth or gums.

  Learning how to floss at a young age is crucial to a child’s daily dental routine.  Even baby teeth benefit from being clean — and nothing cleans between teeth as well as dental floss.

   Sealants are an excellent solution to prevent tooth decay.  Be sure to see your dentist for sealants as soon as adult teeth start growing in. 

   Fluoride helps strengthen teeth while protecting against decay.  Using toothpaste with fluoride or fluoride prescriptions (drops or daily chewable tablets that come in different strength) is a great addition to one’s routine.  Even when the water supply is fluoridated, adding additional fluoride to their habits creates consistency, especially since most kids don’t drink much tap water. 

   Never put a baby to bed with a bottle of any liquid other than water.  Milk and juices contain both acid and sugar, which can quickly rot a baby’s teeth if they are in contact all night long.

   Schedule your child’s first trip to see a dentist as early as age 1. Be sure to schedule two visits per year; this will create a level of comfort and regularity for the child.  Routine checkups ensure that the dentist can diagnose any problems early, and make specific recommendations for each child.  Remember – prevention and early treatment are the best medicine!  

LAURA KELLY, a mother of two, is the first woman and dental ceramist to serve as president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD).  AACD’s free patient referral system is at or call (800) 543-9220.