Flossing 101 – When should children start to floss?

Flossing 101 – When should children start to floss?

Flossing_with_kids_-_Winnipeg_Dentist - Pediatric Dentist Dr M.B. VodreyHow old should your child be before you encourage him to floss? Four, perhaps? After the first permanent teeth begin to erupt? As adolescence begins?

Actually, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends flossing “as soon as there are two adjacent tooth surfaces that cannot be reached by a toothbrush”—or simply put, when two teeth touch—usually during toddlerhood.

Plaque, the film formed by bacteria attaching themselves to the tooth’s smooth surface, knows no lower age limit. At first, the plaque will be soft enough to be removed by a fingernail or toothbrush, but it begins to harden within 48 hours and at 10 days becomes tartar, a hard substance that is difficult to remove at home. Unremoved plaque between teeth raises the risk of inflamedswollen gums andgums that pull away from the teeth (gingivitis). In severe cases, untreated gingivitis can even affect the jawbone.

At age two, though, your child certainly won’t be thinking about the lifelong consequences of not flossing. All she needs to know is that it is something to do once a day, preferably at night, and that Mom or Dad will help until she is old enough to do it on her own.

Rather than use string floss, you may find it easier to manipulate a floss pick in your child’s small mouth. However, use whatever works best for you and your child. Once your child reaches an age when he has the appropriate manual dexterity, probably by age 10 or 11, he can begin to floss his teeth himself.

The teen years are a time when flossing becomes especially important. Teens who don’t eat as well as they should and get too little sleep will find their resistance to infection lowered—including gum infection. Girls, whose hormones make them more susceptible to gum sensitivity and disease anyway, may find that their gums hurt and even bleed in the days before their period begins. While flossing might be uncomfortable at those times, its importance doesn’t diminish.

Taking a few days off from flossing, for whatever reason, only allows the plaque to accumulate and harden, meaning even greater discomfort when flossing resumes. Starting your child on a schedule of regular flossing, even as early as toddlerhood and continuing through adolescence and beyond, can ensure a healthy mouth for a lifetime.

Dr. M. B Vodrey is a Pediatric Dental Specialist in Winnipeg MB