Help teach your kids about dental floss to protect them against gum disease

Fun ways to include flossing in your child’s daily routine

Did you know that tooth decay is considered the most common but preventable chronic disease on Earth, affecting almost 100% of adults and 60% to 90% of school-aged children? And that, in Canada, more than two million school days are missed each year due to dental-related illnesses?

Oral health is an important part of overall health. Gum disease attacks gums, bones and tissues that support teeth and can lead to periodontal disease, a chronic response to dental plaque that can lead to tooth and bone loss. Cavities and oral cancer are other diseases of the mouth. Most of these diseases are preventable but can be hard to treat.

That’s why you want to take care of your child’s teeth right from the start and build lifelong health habits. According to the Canadian Dental Association, children should have their first visit with a dentist within six months of them getting their first tooth or by one year of age. After that, they should see their dentist twice a year.

At home, you should practice good oral hygiene every day. And that includes flossing [Source: Canadian Dental Association].

Flossing is important because it removes plaque and bacteria you can’t reach with a toothbrush. Plaque is the main cause of gum disease and without flossing you miss more than one-third of your tooth surface. If you don’t remove plaque within 24 hours or so, it hardens into tartar, which can only be removed with professional cleaning.

Flossing guidelines

  • Flossing should start when children have two teeth that touch one another, which is usually around age two or three.
  • Flossing should be done once a day. Studies have shown it’s better to floss, then brush, rather than the other way around.
  • Children will usually need help with flossing until they’re eight or a little older.

How to floss properly

  • Step 1: Take a long piece of floss about the length of your child’s arm and wrap it around your middle fingers, leaving about two inches between. Use your index fingers to guide the floss between the teeth.
  • Step 2: Slide the floss between the teeth, wrapping it around the tooth where it meets the gum.
  • Step 3: Wipe the tooth from top to bottom several times until it is clean. Move to a new part of the floss as you move from tooth to tooth.  Disposable flossers are an option for very young children.

(The Canadian Dental Association has a visual guide showing exactly how you should floss teeth.)

Fun ways to incorporate flossing into your child’s daily routine

  • If you brush and floss with your child, you are showing by example that it’s part of a regular, healthy routine. Plus, that way you can make sure they are doing it right.
  • Think of reward systems – whatever that might be that motivates your child, such as stickers on a calendar, one earned for every flossing session, or reading a favourite book together at bedtime.
  • Play a favourite song and make it part of your routine. The good thing about that is not only will the child enjoy themselves, but the length of the song helps them to know how long they should be flossing (at least two minutes).
  • Teach your child about flossing and brushing with videos that will inspire them. The American Dental Association has one about Dudley the Dinosaur brushing and flossing with his cartoon friends. You can even make your own video with the kids.
  • Let your child pick out their own oral care products, such as floss, toothbrush and toothpaste.

Your children look up to you and will follow your example. If you make flossing part of your daily time together, you are developing lifelong habits that will keep their mouths healthy and their smiles bright.

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