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Brushing and Toothpaste

Brushing your child's teeth should begin at an early age, around 24 months, or as directed by your child's doctor or pediatric dentist. Children will need help brushing their teeth until they are around the age of 7 to 8. Even before your child actually has teeth, it is important to perform mouth care. Using a damp washcloth or piece of gauze, gently rub it over your infant's gums to help clean the mouth. A soft toothbrush, wet with water, may be used after your infant has developed some teeth. It is advised to consult your child's dentist regarding the appropriate time for your toddler to begin using toothpaste. Only a very small amount of toothpaste should be used because young children will often swallow the toothpaste, instead of spitting it out.

The importance of brushing

The single best way to remove harmful plaque--a thin, sticky film loaded with bacteria--from teeth and gums is to brush teeth regularly and properly.

What is the proper technique for teeth brushing?

Because every mouth is different, there is more than one technique of brushing that has proven to be effective. Deciding which technique is most appropriate for your child depends largely on your child's teeth positions and gum condition. Consult your child's pediatric dentist to determine which brushing technique is most appropriate for your child's mouth.

Generally, most dentists recommend a circular technique for brushing. This includes brushing only a small group of teeth at a time and gradually covering the entire mouth. The importance of maintaining a circular or elliptical motion is emphasized as using a back and forth motion may cause the following:

  • Receding gums
  • Exposed and sensitive root surface
  • Wearing down of the root surfaces at the gum line

Instead, dentists recommend the following method:

Picture of a dentist instructing a young girl on proper toothbrushing techniques

Step 1: Place the toothbrush beside the teeth at a 45-degree angle.

Step 2: Gently brush teeth only a small group of teeth at a time (in a circular or elliptical motion) until the entire mouth is covered.

Step 3: Brush the outside of the teeth, inside of the teeth, and the chewing surfaces. (You can't really brush between the teeth if they are close together; that's what floss is for.)

Step 4: Gently brush the tongue to remove bacteria and freshen breath.

Step 5: Repeat steps one through four at least twice daily, especially after meals and snacks.

What type of toothbrush should be used?

A toothbrush head should be small--about 1 inch by 1/2 inch--and should have a handle suitable for firm grasping. The bristles of the brush should be soft, nylon, and rounded at the ends. This helps ensure that the brush bristles are kind to the gums and tooth surfaces. Soft, polished bristles allow you to reach into the crevice (sulcus) between the teeth and gums to remove plaque without damaging the gums. Some brushes are too abrasive and can wear down the enamel and root surfaces. Thus, in most cases, medium and hard bristles are not recommended. Only gentle pressure is needed when brushing to remove plaque. Excessive pressure can cause the gums to recede and can abrade the tooth surface.

How often is brushing necessary?

Generally, brushing is recommended twice a day for at least three to four minutes each time. People generally think they are brushing long enough, when, in fact, most people spend less than one minute brushing. In addition, it is generally better to brush three to four minutes, twice a day, instead of brushing quickly five or more times throughout the day.

Dentists advise brushing your teeth during the day while at work, school, or play. Keeping a toothbrush handy--in your desk or backpack--increases the chances that you will brush during the day.

What is toothpaste?

Picture of a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste

Also called dentifrice, toothpaste is comprised of the following cleaning ingredients (stated in approximate percentages):

  • Humectant and water--75 percent
  • Abrasive--20 percent
  • Foaming and flavoring agents--2 percent
  • pH buffers--2 percent
  • Coloring agents, binders, and opacifiers--1.5 percent
  • Fluoride--0.24 percent

Facts about toothpaste

Brushing with toothpaste (particularly toothpaste with fluoride) helps to accomplish the following:

  • Remove plaque
  • Resist decay
  • Promote remineralization
  • Clean and polish teeth
  • Remove teeth stains
  • Freshen breath

Note: It is advised to consult your child's dentist regarding the appropriate time for your toddler to begin using toothpaste.

Which type of toothpaste is best?

Fluoride is the most crucial ingredient in toothpaste. As long as the toothpaste contains fluoride, the brand, or type (paste, gel, or powder) generally does not matter. All fluoride toothpastes work effectively to fight plaque and cavities, and to clean and polish tooth enamel. The brand you choose should bear the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval on the container. The ADA seal means that adequate evidence of safety and efficacy have been demonstrated in controlled, clinical trials.

Some toothpastes offer tartar control pyrophosphates to prevent the build-up of soft calculus deposits on teeth, while others offer whitening formulas to safely remove stains making teeth brighter and shinier. But, contrary to clever advertising and popular belief, fluoride is the true active ingredient that works the hardest to protect your teeth.

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