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How to Get Plaque off Children's Teeth

Establishing good dental habits at an early age can produce long-term benefits later in life.
Establishing good dental habits at an early age can produce long-term benefits later in life.
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Plaque is unpleasant. It's pasty, it smells bad and it's harmful -- especially to kids.

Plaque is an ugly, yellowish film of tiny food particles and bacteria which tends to accumulate in crevices but can grow anywhere, even on the front of teeth [sources: Hoffman; Teach Kids How]. If it's dealt with quickly, it can easily be removed, but as time goes on plaque becomes tartar: a hardened substance that, if not scraped off by a dentist, can lead to cavities or even a disease of the gums known as gingivitis [source: Hoffman].

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The reason it's particularly bad for kids is because of the makeup of their teeth. Baby teeth have a thinner protective layer of enamel so plaque can do its dirty work even faster [source: SoftDental]. While it's true that those teeth will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth, plaque-infested baby teeth can cause little ones a lot of discomfort. Once the enamel is eroded, the nerve of the tooth is exposed and irritated.

Plaque is unsightly, smelly, unhealthy and potentially a source of pain. So, what can you do about it? Quite a lot, actually. With a little instruction and creative coaxing (think parental help and the right tools) along with periodic assistance from a friendly dentist, plaque can be nothing more than an unwelcome visitor who is regularly shown the door. It all begins, of course, with the parents -- parents who show a determination to make plaque removal a part of the youngster's daily routine. Some of it may sound obvious while other approaches can seem overly time-consuming or extreme, but all of it works.

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As with anything in your child's life, your degree of involvement will change with the child's age. Would you believe that plaque removal techniques can even begin before your child has teeth? Some dental professionals recommend that you rub an infant's gums with a washcloth to remove germs and to get him or her accustomed to the feeling and routine of regular cleanings [source: SoftDental]. And when teeth finally begin to appear, you can use a brush with very soft bristles to scour those tiny little nubs at least twice a day.

Dental floss is used to remove substances between teeth, so when your child has at least two teeth that are side-by-side, floss should be introduced. Most children don't have the dexterity to effectively use floss until about 8 or 9 years of age. Ignoring plaque for that amount of time or just brushing alone isn't a good idea. Instead, you can establish a habit of placing your child on your lap at the end of each day and flossing for him or her. It may take some time and effort, but it will establish an important routine for that child [source: Teach Kids How].

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It may take coaxing and creativity to keep your child's teeth healthy and plaque-free. Songs or timers can be helpful. Have your child hum a tune while brushing for the number of stanzas necessary to reach two minutes, the minimum amount of time that should be spent on a cleaning. Children can also be encouraged to floss by seeing the plaque in exaggerated form. Readily available colored dye solutions or dye tablets will highlight the areas where plaque has accumulated. Periodically have your child use the dyes and make it a challenge to see how few blue or red spots appear [source: WebMD].

The advantages of having clean, healthy, plaque-free teeth are numerous: increased self-esteem, confidence and financial savings from fewer dental procedures, fresh breath and no pain. The key is to make plaque removal a routine -- a routine act that takes place at least twice a day. If that habit can be established early, your child will maintain a healthy smile for years to come.

Keep reading. We have lots more information on the next page.

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Sources

  • Hoffman, Matthew, M.D. "The Truth About Healthy Teeth." WebMD. (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/plaque-causes
  • SoftDental. "Don't Overlook Your Baby's Teeth." (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.softdental.com/pediatric_child.html
  • Teach Kids How. "Teach Your Children How to Floss Their Teeth." (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.teachkidshow.com/teach-your-child-how-to-floss-their-teeth/
  • WebMD. "Self-examination for Dental Plaque." (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/self-examination-for-dental-plaque

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