You know it’s true: Flossing is an important part of keeping your mouth healthy.1 But when is the right time for children to start? Can they start too early? Is there a risk to starting too late?
Even the smallest mouths can benefit from making flossing a part of their regular dental care routines. And the earlier you can introduce healthy habits to children, the better. This is especially true for anything that has to do with their bodies or if you have a child who tends to resist anything new.
Starting and practicing good habits now can help keep their teeth and gums healthy for decades to come.2
To keep a child’s mouth healthy, parents should do the flossing until the child can do it on his or her own.3 It may take a while for children to develop the skills to do it well, so starting early is key.
You do not need special floss, although the smooth type is usually easier to use. You may also want to try floss picks. These can be helpful if your child tends to squirm or resist flossing. The picks are also easier for the child to manage on his or her own, but some are too big for kid-sized mouths. If your child is calmer and doesn’t fight it too much, try using regular dental floss. It does a slightly better job because it can be wrapped around each tooth.
When flossing, be very gentle and thorough. Don’t be alarmed if your child’s gums bleed during flossing. This is quite normal and will likely happen more than once.4 Just remember not to use too much force and the bleeding will eventually lessen or stop altogether.
When you feel your child is able to floss and do a good job, let him or her do the flossing. For most kids, that’s around second or third grade, but some kids are able to handle it sooner.5
Be sure to watch carefully to make sure good technique is used and that all of the back teeth are included.
Learning to floss can be tricky, but taking it one step at a time can help. You might even try having your child practice how to hold and handle the floss before actually flossing:6
- Using a piece of floss about 18 inches long, tie 2 small circles at each end. This will help keep your child from losing either end of the floss.
- Place 1 of your child’s middle fingers in each circle.
- Wrap the extra floss around those fingers, leaving an inch or so between them.
- Using each thumb, gently slide the floss between 2 teeth.
- Curve the floss around both sides of a tooth, in sort of a “C” shape, so it is able to scrape more of the tooth’s surface.
- Gently slide the floss up and down a few times in this way. Remind your child not to snap or force the floss between the teeth.
- Now curve the floss around the other tooth.
- Gently slide the floss up and down a few times on this tooth.
- Take the floss out and adjust to reach a clean section.
Kids love to do what their parents do, whether it’s tying shoelaces, using the TV remote, shaving or flossing. If they see you do it, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. So be a role model and improve your own dental health at the same time.
Praising your child for doing a good job is another motivator. Using rewards like colorful stickers may help encourage those harder-to-motivate kids.
Remember, flossing gets rid of the bacteria and plaque that can lead to gum disease.7 By making it a regular part of your child’s routine, he or she is much more likely to keep this healthy habit for a lifetime.8