It can be tempting to think that young children don’t need to floss since their baby teeth are only going to fall out eventually. Be that as it may, a child’s gums and jawbone are there for life. And cavities can hurt, making it hard for kids to sleep, eat and learn. Decay in primary teeth can also lead to complications necessitating further procedures. So the earlier we establish good oral habits to protect teeth and gums from harmful bacteria and plaque, the better.
Floss manages to get into places that a toothbrush can’t. It’s that simple. Removing hidden plaque and bacteria prevents cavities from forming in the short term, and gingivitis and periodontitis in the long run. Giving gums a regular workout stops them from becoming inflamed and infected.
When to start
Habits don’t happen overnight. They take months, even years to form, and they can mean the difference between good or poor health. So it’s wise to treat floss with the same respect as the toothbrush.
Children should start flossing with help when they are 2 to 3 years old. By the time they are 8-10, they should be ready to go it alone.
Flossing only takes a couple of minutes, and should be done at least once every day. The most effective time to floss is just before bed.
The ‘Spool Method’
The easiest way to teach a child to floss is using the ‘spool method’:
- Cut off a piece of floss approximately 18-20” in length
- Wind each end around your middle finger several times
- Using your thumbs and index fingers, guide the floss in between teeth in an up-and-down motion toward the gum line
- When you are flossing correctly, the string should form ‘C’ around each tooth.
Bear in mind that although water picks and irrigators are convenient tools for those with braces or other orthodontic appliances, they are no substitute for conventional floss since they do not remove surface plaque.
How to make flossing fun
Let your child ‘play’ with floss in various formats to get used to the sensation of string in their mouths. Kids Flossers can be a great place to start since they are small enough for small hands, and come in a variety of fun colours and styles. Some are even flavoured!
For younger children, it may be enough to make up a silly rhyme or song to accompany the ritual, while others may enjoy earning a sticker for a reward chart.
‘Monkey see, monkey do’ is often the most powerful motivator for children. Enthusiasm is contagious, but so is apathy and negativity. It stands to reason that we are role models, even when it comes to oral health. So by all means let your children see you flossing at every opportunity!
Not only does flossing help excise food particles and bacteria stuck in between teeth, it can also help prevent bad breath. That should be enough to persuade the grown ups to get spooling!