Do you remember the day you lost your first baby tooth? Maybe it fell out when you bit into an apple, or perhaps it dangled for a few days before you were brave enough to pull it. Baby teeth -- also called primary teeth -- are only around for the first few years of your life before they fall out and are replaced by your permanent, adult teeth. But even though you eventually lose them, it's still very important to take care of them.
It's a common misconception that you don't need to take care of baby teeth, but they do serve an important function. As you grow and develop, baby teeth act as placeholders for your adult teeth until they're ready to surface. If baby teeth that are not cared for fall out too early, adult teeth may not have a good space to emerge. Healthy baby teeth also help ensure the jaw develops the right way and in the correct shape [source: WebMD].
Good oral health at an early age also contributes to good overall health, since infections and tooth decay in the mouth can lead to infections and sickness in the rest of the body. Plus, cavities and tooth decay can be painful, even for young children [source: WebMD].
Not only will taking care of baby teeth make sure your child's mouth stays healthy, the hygiene habits you set early on for your children go a long way toward ensuring a lifetime of good dental health. But what exactly does that involve? Taking care of adult teeth includes brushing, flossing and sometimes using mouthwash, but is all that necessary for a young child's teeth? Isn't brushing enough? First let's take a look at why we floss and use mouthwash to take care of adult teeth, which will help to explain why applying these habits to your child's teeth help keep their mouth healthy, too.
Why We Floss and Rinse
For good dental health, you probably know that you need to brush your teeth at least twice a day. But brushing alone isn't enough.
Flossing plays a huge role in dental care. When you brush, you're removing plaque and food particles from your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on these particles and produce an acid that erodes the enamel of your teeth. When enamel erodes away, the dentin underneath is vulnerable to decay.
Bacteria in your mouth can also damage your gums and lead to gum disease. But bacteria and food particles get stuck in cracks and crevices in the teeth -- which is why these areas are more vulnerable to developing cavities. The areas between your teeth, which can't be reached by brushing alone, are common places for cavities to develop. That's why regular flossing is needed to make sure you remove the plaque, bacteria and food particles from between your teeth [source: Zamosky].
Mouthwash also holds a useful place in the dental care process. It helps remove plaque from teeth, kill bacteria and can protect the gums against gingivitis [source: New York Times]. Some rinses also contain fluoride for strengthening tooth enamel, which helps protect against cavities and tooth decay [source: American Dental Association]. As an added benefit, it makes your breath smell fresh by removing odor-causing bacteria and masking other bad smells. However, while mouthwash makes your mouth extra clean and gives your breath a boost, many dentists will tell you rinsing isn't as important for a healthy mouth as brushing and flossing [source: Danoff].
We do all of these things to protect and care for our adult teeth because we hope to keep them around for a long time. But if kids' teeth will eventually fall out no matter how well they're protected, do we have to go to such great lengths to care for them? The simple answer is yes; a child's teeth and gums are just as vulnerable to decay and disease as your own teeth, and flossing and rinsing with mouthwash can help ensure a healthy smile, even if that smile only contains a couple of teeth.
Keep reading to find out when and how to include flossing and mouthwash in your child's oral care routine.
Flossing, Rinsing and Kids
Should you floss your child's teeth? Yes! Even though they're baby teeth, plaque and bacteria can still build up between them and cause decay and infections. You should start flossing your child's teeth daily once any two teeth in your child's mouth are touching, which is when brushing alone can no longer reach all of the crevices where bacteria can hide [source: American Dental Association].
At an early age, you'll need to floss your child's teeth for him or her because most young children lack the coordination to do it on their own. But by the age of 9, kids should be able to floss their own teeth, with supervision [source: Colgate].
If you've demonstrated proper flossing technique for them prior to that age, it'll be easier to teach them how to do it. A plastic flosser -- a small, handheld tool with a piece of floss strung between two prongs -- may make flossing kids' teeth easier because it only requires one hand to use. That leaves the other hand free to hold your child's mouth open or keep their head still [source: WebMD].
While flossing a young child's teeth should begin as soon as two teeth come in side-by-side, mouthwash can come into play at a later age. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), children under the age of 6 should not use mouthwash because it's difficult for them to keep from swallowing it. Swallowing mouthwash poses health hazards to young children -- especially if they swallow an adult mouthwash containing alcohol.
After the age of 6, it's OK to start teaching your child to use mouthwash -- under adult supervision. Make sure to use only rinses designed for children, since they don't contain alcohol and are less harmful if your kid accidentally swallows some of it.
Children's mouthwashes also usually contain fluoride for strong teeth and have a flavor kids like -- like bubblegum -- which makes the experience more enjoyable. Some kids' mouthwashes also have an ingredient that changes color when it meets with bacteria and food particles, so when your child spits it out they can see just how effective rinsing with mouthwash can be [source: Listerine].
Want to know more about dental care? Brush up on hygiene smarts with more information on the next page.
- American Dental Association. "Cavity Prevention Tips from the American Dental Association." Jan. 2008. (Sept. 4, 2011). http://www.ada.org/sections/newsAndEvents/pdfs/cavity_prevention_tips.pdf
- American Dental Association. "Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums." (Sept. 4, 2011). http://www.ada.org/2624.aspx
- Children's Hospital Boston. "Mouth and Teeth." (Sept. 11, 2011). http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site566/mainpageS566P0.html
- Colgate. "Brushing and Flossing Your Child's Teeth." June 2, 2003. (Sept. 4, 2011). http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Articles/Oral-and-Dental-Health-at-Any-Age/Infants-and-Children/Toddler-Child-Transitional-Care/article/Brushing-and-Flossing-Your-Childs-Teeth.cvsp
- Danoff, Robert, D.O., M.S. "Open Wide: Your Oral Hygiene: Is Mouthwash a Must?" MSN Health and Fitness. (Sept. 11, 2011). http://health.msn.com/health-topics/oral-care/open-wide-your-oral-hygiene
- Listerine. "Frequently Asked Questions About Listerine Smart Rinse." (Sept. 11, 2011). http://www.listerinekids.com/smart_rinse_faq
- New York Times Health Guide. "Gingivitis." New York Times. (Sept. 11, 2011). http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/gingivitis/prevention.html
- WebMD. "Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth - Topic Overview." April 23, 2009. (Sept. 11, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/tc/brushing-and-flossing-a-childs-teeth-topic-overview
- WebMD. "Caring for Your Baby's Teeth." (Sept. 4, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/caring-babies-teeth
- Zamosky, Lisa. "Still Not Flossing? More Reasons Why You Should." WebMD. (Sept. 11, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/still-not-flossing-more-reasons-why-you-should