Brushing at least twice a day, every day, is what is recommended to keep teeth healthy and cavity-free but, according to a recent CDC report, 80 percent of U.S. children start brushing later than they should.
“What the study found, is while the recommendation is for kids to start brushing as soon as they have their first tooth, there were a significant percentage of kids who started brushing much later than that – some as late as two and three years old or older,” said Kimberly Giuliano, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study.
Dr. Giuliano said if children start brushing too late, they will start to develop plaque and tartar build up on their teeth, which can lead to cavities.
She said cavities in young teeth can be equally as damaging as they are in adult teeth.
Dr. Giuliano said inadequate brushing can also cause bacteria to develop in the body, which can lead to inflammation and disease, not just in the mouth, but throughout the child’s entire body.
The study also found many children are using too much toothpaste.
Because children sometimes swallow their toothpaste, ingesting too much can lead to a condition called fluorosis.
Fluorosis causes deposits in the developing teeth, leading to pits and discoloration – and those stains are permanent.
For this reason, fluoridated toothpaste is not recommended for children under the age of two.
“Once children are at the age of two, we recommend that they use the amount of toothpaste that’s the size of a grain of rice; and between the ages of three and six, they can just do a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste on the toothbrush,” said Dr. Giuliano.
Dr. Giuliano said using the appropriate amount of toothpaste with each brushing will keep kids safe, even if they accidentally swallow some.
She said it’s important for parents to get children excited about brushing their teeth at a young age, and then once they are old enough, allow them to start learning to brush their own teeth with supervision.
“Start brushing as soon as your child has a tooth,” said Dr. Giuliano. ”Develop the habit early, and the child will want to do it; they will have less fear of doing it, and have less resistance around that task we’re asking them to do at least twice a day, every single day.”