We all want the very best for our kids, and we know that teaching healthy habits is absolutely necessary for doing what’s best for them. But, what if in teaching a healthy habit, we stop a little short of teaching everything necessary to build the habit properly? A recent study suggests that we may be doing just that, at least when it comes to teaching our children proper oral care habits. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has tracked, among other things, the brushing habits of children and adolescents. It found some areas where we adults could be doing better teaching our young people proper brushing habits.
Perhaps the most striking information out of this study or survey responses is that while children are using toothpaste, they are not using it in the safest, most efficient way possible. Read a tube of toothpaste with instructions for use in children and you’ll see that children should use a pea-sized amount. Very young children should use a smear, which is about the size of a grain of rice. Unfortunately, around 40% of children between 3-6 are using too much toothpaste.
But it’s just toothpaste, right? Why should using extra be a big deal? It’s important to remember that toothpaste is medicated with fluoride. Toothpaste is not like soap, where if you get a bit extra you just rinse it away. Toothpaste is like ibuprofen—great for you at proper doses when you need it but unhealthy for you in quantities too large. Although there are toothpastes on the market specifically formulated to taste good so children will be willing to use it, it’s necessary to teach children to use toothpaste properly the same way we teach them to use flavored children’s medications properly.
Brushing every day, twice a day, is vital to healthy teeth and gums. The good news is many young people are brushing daily. The bad news is that twice a day brushing is less common than it should be by quite a large margin. Reminding children to brush twice a day and supervising proper brushing technique can make a remarkable improvement in oral health outcomes.
Brushing is also, not surprisingly, only helpful when it’s being done. Many parents report not starting to brush their children’s teeth early enough. As soon as the first tooth erupts, around 6 months old, it’s time to start brushing daily. This keeps the brand new tooth healthy and builds good brushing habits from the earliest age.
We can do more to teach children great oral care habits. The main requirement is our willingness to engage in conversations about toothcare and helping children learn and build healthy habits.