The Importance of Teaching Children Good Oral Hygiene

Dental health is very important. As nurses, we can be instrumental in teaching children, as well as their parents, good oral hygiene. Oral health education will benefit children an entire lifetime. Specialties Pediatric Knowledge

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The Importance of Teaching Children Good Oral Hygiene

Did you know that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children in America?  Cavities can cause a lot of problems for children, but they are preventable.  Pain and infections due to poor oral hygiene result in children missing more days of school than those who have good oral hygiene.  These children tend to receive lower grades in school as well.  As nurses, we may have many opportunities to teach parents and children the importance of good oral hygiene and how to care for their teeth correctly.

Good Oral Hygiene Begins Early in Life

Infants and Toddlers (Newborn-2 years old)

  • Abstain from putting children to bed with a bottle or any type of food.  Also, when a child's first teeth begin to erupt through the gums, on-demand nighttime breastfeeding should be discontinued.
  • With a clean, soft cloth, wipe the gums once or twice per day.  Cleaning after the infant's first feeding each morning and again at night before bedtime is a good routine to follow.  This decreases the number of bacteria and sugars that are on the gums, which could eventually lead to cavities in the first set of teeth that haven't erupted yet but are under the gums.
  • As the first teeth emerge, begin a brushing routine.  A toothbrush with soft bristles should be used.  At this age, use toothpaste that does not contain fluoride.  The child's dentist can give instructions on exactly when to add toothpaste to the oral hygiene routine.  
  • A child should begin seeing a dentist on a regular basis by the time they are one year old.

Age 2 Years and Up

  • Brush teeth each morning and at night before bed.  A fluoride toothpaste can be used at around two years of age.  A toothbrush with soft to medium bristles is ideal for children in this age group.
  • Brushing should be done in small, circular motions.  Brush the entire area of each tooth.
  • Floss at least once daily, and more often if foods get stuck between the teeth due to the close spacing of teeth.
  • Rinse the mouth with a fluoride mouthwash once daily.
  • Sealants reduce the risk of cavities in molars by 80%.  Dentists may recommend these for children, especially those who are at higher risk for tooth decay.

Establishing an oral hygiene regimen can help reduce the risk of a child developing cavities.  Ensure that they brush and floss each day.  A pea-sized amount of toothpaste is all that is needed on the toothbrush.  The child should be taught to spit and then rinse the mouth with water, being careful not to swallow the toothpaste.  As soon as two teeth are touching each other, flossing should begin.

Children Should See a Dentist on a Regular Basis

As mentioned earlier, a child should begin seeing a dentist by their first birthday.  This allows the dentist to look for any problems that might arise early in life.  When children are introduced to dentists at a young age, they become more comfortable with routine dental checkups.  Children and adults as well should see their dentist twice each year.  A pediatric dentist specializes in dental health for children.

Eating a Balanced Diet

Oral health is directly affected by diet.  Avoiding foods and drinks which are high in acid and sugars is very important as they are detrimental to the enamel of teeth.  Enamel helps protect teeth from the adverse effects of chewing, crunching, and biting.  However, when it erodes, the enamel cannot be repaired.  Enamel has no living cells; therefore, once the damage is done, the enamel is gone forever.

Foods that contain sticky sugars, such as fruit snacks, caramel, and toffee, can stay on the child's teeth for several hours.  If a child does consume these types of foods, such as on special occasions, their teeth should be brushed as soon as possible to prevent decay.

Foods that should be eaten to ensure good oral health include fiber-rich vegetables and fruits, milk, cheese, and other dairy products, sugarless gum, and foods with fluoride.  Foods that are plenteous in fiber help keep teeth and gums clean and also help to get saliva flowing.  Along with good dental care at home, this is a great defense against the formation of cavities and gum disease.  Saliva is the body's way of reducing the effects of acids and enzymes which attack the teeth.  Sugarless gum helps the body to make saliva which removes food particles in the mouth.

Water, or any product with fluoride, is good for the teeth as long as it does not contain sugar.  Check labels to see if there is any sugar in the product.


Children's Oral Health: CDC

The Importance of Oral Health Care for Children: Pediatric Care Group P.C.

Why Children's Oral Health is Important: Bowmanville Dental

The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth: University of Rochester Medical Center

Angela Davis has been an ADN registered nurse for 30 years. 20 years of experience in labor & delivery. 10 years experience in medical/surgical nursing. She obtained her bachelor's degree at age 50.

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Angela Davis

2 Articles; 3 Posts

Specializes in Labor & Delivery.

Thank you!   And you are absolutely right!  Oral hygiene is important in so many ways!  I help a lot with my grandchildren, so I'm trying to teach them the importance of oral hygiene at a young age.  We tend to continue habits that we learn early in life into our adult years, so oral hygiene is one of those good habits to teach very early in life.

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