Explaining Oral Hygiene to Children

Become a dental hygienistIf you like working with children and already have plans to become a dental hygienist, one specialization to look into is pediatric dentistry. Pediatric dentists care for patients from birth through adolescence. Oral health constitutes an important part of our overall wellbeing, and it is well-known that diseases of the mouth can have adverse effects on the rest of the body. For children, oral health should be taught very early on, starting at the first year of life. Poor habits such as improper diet and underdeveloped brushing skills are the largest causes of tooth decay in children. Some children are fussier than others with activities like brushing and flossing, but if taught from an early age, the importance of oral health will resonate with a child for a lifetime.

The Importance of Primary Dentition

Baby teeth, or primary teeth, begin to emerge around the age of one and are usually completely grown in by the age of two. A childa��s primary teeth are less mineralized than permanent teeth, meaning they are more susceptible to tooth decay. The ways in which primary teeth are cared for will dictate how permanent teeth will grow in and align. Primary teeth are also essential for learning the correct pronunciation of words, so failure to care for them effectively can take a serious toll on early language and social development.


For the first several years, the parent must lead and supervise their childa��s brushing until motor functions allow the child to do it themselves. The amount of toothpaste required for a child has been reduced in recent years to a a�?grain of ricea�? sized portion. This is to avoid children swallowing the toothpaste and also to prevent dental fluorosis (excess fluoride causing tooth deterioration). Parents should use a childrena��s toothpaste that has been recommended by a certified dental assistant, or which has proper amounts of fluoride for young teeth. Effective brushing techniques to share with young patients include brushing behind the teeth with the front of the brush, and using a gentle back and forth motion. Ita��s also important to remind children to brush their tongues, although mouthwash isna��t recommended until the child is above the age of ten.

Certified dental assistant


Flossing in an important but commonly overlooked step of oral hygiene, which removes food particles and plaque not disposed of through brushing. Dental assistants should remind parents to begin flossing their childa��s teeth as soon as the primary teeth begin to grow. Around the age of sixa��or when a child can write their own name – parents should begin having children floss their own teeth with supervision. Teaching a child how to floss properly can be difficult, but one recommendation is to tie little circles on each end for their fingers. The method for properly flossing taught in dental hygienist school, is to gently slide the floss down in between your teeth and curve it in a a�?ca�? shape between the tooth and the gum.

The Egg Experiment

To help reinforce the importance of oral health for your child, a successful technique many have used is the a�?egg experiment.a�? Parents show the child a hard-boiled egg, highlighting the protective importance of the hard outer shell. Then, they place the egg in a jar of vinegar and ask the child what he/she thinks will happen to the egg. After a few days, have your child remove the egga��the shell will now be soft. Explain to the child that the same thing can happen to teeth that are not cared for through brushing and flossing. In collaboration with the parents of their youngest patients, dental hygienists and assistants can protect and promote oral health in children through creative demonstration and ongoing education.

What other techniques could help a child learn the importance of oral health?

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