Oral Care for Kids: Choosing the Right Products

Oral health in kids is very important, but often neglected. Protecting and caring for baby teeth is as important as caring for adult teeth. There are many products specifically designed for children's oral health. Let's explore what you should look for when deciding on products for your child.

Key takeaways:

Oral care for kids

Introducing your child to a proper oral hygiene routine is vital as soon as they get their first tooth. However, though your child may think it's fun to brush their teeth at first, it's important to guide them to ensure proper techniques. Getting your child into the routine of maintaining good oral habits — even before they can do so themselves — will help set a precedent for the rest of their lives.

The right-sized toothbrush

A toothbrush is an essential part of any oral health routine. Toothbrushes are designed to remove plaque from the tooth surfaces. Most toothbrushes for kids are labeled according to age. However, toothbrushes vary in size and shape. For example, smaller-head toothbrushes are better for smaller mouths. While a bigger toothbrush head may seem like it will cover the teeth better, the larger head is too big to reach the back teeth adequately. So, try to get the smallest head toothbrush possible for younger kids. Even teens should use a smaller brush than adults.

Kids also tend to rush while brushing their teeth. Setting a timer can help ensure they brush long enough. An electric toothbrush is another option. Electric toothbrushes often keep kids interested in brushing for the full two minutes. To help reinforce the habit, most electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer. Furthermore, electric toothbrushes remove more plaque and bacteria than manual toothbrushes. This means a cleaner mouth and less risk for cavities.

Age appropriate toothpaste

Toothpaste is the "hand soap for the mouth". It not only freshens breath but also helps remove plaque and prevent cavities. However, toothpaste for kids has fewer active ingredients and milder flavors than adult toothpaste. Of course, kids prefer sweeter-tasting toothpaste. Therefore, bubblegum and berry flavors are very popular.

While there are fluoride-free toothpaste options marketed for kids, most dental professionals agree fluoride is very helpful in children. The ADA recommends using fluoridated toothpaste as soon as the first tooth erupts in a child’s mouth. According to the ADA, only a smear on the toothbrush bristles is recommended for children under three. Children three and up can use a pea size amount of toothpaste. Even if the child were to swallow the whole amount of toothpaste on the bristles while brushing, the fluoride risk would be minimal. However, parents should always monitor and help children under six while brushing.

Never too young to floss

Flossing in children is just as important as it is in adults. Flossing helps remove food, plaque, and bacteria from the spaces between teeth. Even as kids grow and develop spaces between their teeth, flossing is still vital to clean the surfaces of the teeth. For kids, floss picks are very helpful. Traditional string floss can be hard to use. Several types of picks are available specifically designed for kids. They are usually brightly colored and have kid-friendly shapes too.

A water flosser can also benefit kids. A water flosser sprays a focused stream of water between teeth to flush out food and debris. Kids are very prone to developing cavities between baby teeth. Additionally, the larger spacing of baby teeth allows food debris to get stuck. Therefore, it is important to clean between teeth daily using one of these forms of flossing.

Mouth rinse

There are many mouth-rinse options for kids, but most of the time, mouth rinse is not advised for kids under six. That's because many children under six may have trouble spitting out mouth rinse. For example, swishing and spitting take coordination that young kids have not developed yet. Also, flavor matters! Maybe even more to kids than adults. While adults tend to prefer a minty flavor with oral care products, kids don't. Children are more sensitive to mint, and it stings their mouths. Instead, consider getting a fruity or sweet flavor for the little ones. Kids are much more likely to willingly participate if they like how their oral care products taste.

Oral care recommendations by age

A good oral hygiene habit should start when the first tooth appears in your child’s mouth. These habits will help improve their oral health for years to come. However, it's not always an easy task with toddlers — or older kids, for that matter. That's when choosing the right products can help. No matter the child's age, here are a few key points to consider.

AgeCharacteristics and recommendations
Kids under 1 year old
  • A toothbrush is not required.
  • The first tooth erupts around six months old.
  • Use a soft washcloth and water to gently wipe gums after feeding.
  • Use silicone finger brushes or extra-small head toothbrushes.
  • Brushing with water or with a light smear of toothpaste.
  • 1-3 year olds
  • Require help with brushing.
  • Chewing on the toothbrush while brushing at this age is common.
  • Removes plaque and debris when they are chewing.
  • Fluoride toothpaste is recommended beginning at the age of one.
  • Use only a smear of toothpaste.
  • 3-6 year olds
  • Start to develop some independence.
  • Both child and parent can take turns brushing.
  • Skills develop while still making sure the teeth are clean.
  • All baby teeth should be in around three.
  • A pea size amount of toothpaste is recommended.
  • Flossing is necessary at this age.
  • Spacing develops between teeth during this time.
  • 6-12 years old
  • Supervise brushing while allowing the child to be more independent.
  • Brushing skills continue to improve.
  • Can start with a larger toothbrush, but not ready for adult size toothbrush.
  • Mouth rinse can be added at this time.
  • Flossing is extremely important as adult teeth continue to erupt.
  • 12 years and older
  • Kids during this time are very independent with oral care.
  • Most adult teeth should be in by this age.
  • The mouth will not finish growing until around 17-18.
  • Maintain toothbrush size that fits mouth size comfortably.
  • Limit sugar in the diet.
  • Parents should remind and encourage kids in their habits.
  • Proper oral care routines for kids

    A good oral care routine is important to maintain a healthy mouth. Here are some tips that apply to kids of all ages.

    1. Brush teeth for two minutes at least twice a day.
    2. Use a soft bristle toothbrush only.
    3. Toothbrush should comfortably reach all teeth in the mouth.
    4. Flossing with string floss or water flosser is important to clean all surfaces of the teeth.
    5. Mouth rinse should be avoided until a child can spit effectively, usually around six years of age.
    6. Let kids be a part of choosing their flavors of oral care products.
    7. Keep it fun and exciting. Kids are more willing to stick to an oral care routine that is fun.
    Make it fun no matter what products you decide to add to your child’s oral care routine; new products and routines take time for little ones to adjust to. However, staying consistent can help your kid build healthy oral care habits for their lifetime. These routines will keep smiles clean, healthy, and happy.
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