Teeth Send a Message with Bite - The Ottawa Citizen

April 6, 2010
Iris Winston

When it comes to proper oral hygiene practices, everyone knows it's important to floss and brush your teeth regularly. But like many things in life, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about taking care of your teeth to ensure they will last a lifetime.

Pediatric dentist Dr. Sarah Hulland of Calgary says it's never too young to instil good habits. In fact, she says the best time to start is even before a baby's first teeth arrive. "Parents can use a gauze wipe on their baby's gums to get into the habit of maintaining oral hygiene from the get-go," she explains.

When the first teeth appear, parents can then switch to a soft silicone finger toothbrush. And once the child has a full set of teeth, it's time to graduate to a toothbrush -- although a parent's help is a must for longer than most might realize, she says.

"Parents will think a two-year-old can brush their own teeth simply because they say they want to. But at that age, all they're really good at is chewing the toothbrush or licking the toothpaste off."

She firmly believes that children need some form of assistance until they're about the age of eight.

"Kids need it done for them until they're at least three. Then parents should use the 'hand over hand' technique just to make sure the child is using the right motions in the brushing process," she says.

Flossing can start as early as two, she adds, a process that can be made much easier with helpful tools such as floss sticks. She advises avoiding mouth rinses until the age of six, because children don't have the capacity to rinse and spit.

Toothpaste should also be dispensed in moderation. "Sometimes you see parents making that ice cream topper you see in the pictures, but really, a small smear the size of a kernel or two of rice is enough for a child under three. Then you can graduate to an amount the size of a small green pea. Otherwise they may swallow excessive amounts of fluoride."

Good brushing and flossing habits should be applied at any age, of course. And that means not being too aggressive in your brushing techniques, which can lead to gum damage over the long term, says Dr. Ian J. Akiyama, a Toronto-based dentist.

"If you use a scrubbing back-and-forth action you can cause wear of the gum area and tooth," he explains. "You need to keep the brush at a 45- degree angle and work up from the gum line to the tooth inside and out."

While a steady routine of brushing and flossing is usually enough to keep your teeth and gums healthy, there are some additional things to keep in mind as you age, says Dr. Don Friedlander, president of the Canadian Dental Association in Ottawa.

"Seniors need to pay extra care for a few reasons. First, they tend to have drier mouths and are therefore more prone to decay and tissue inflammation. They're more likely to be on medications. Many have limited dexterity so have more trouble reaching difficult areas. Nutrition also tends to suffer."

Gum recession is another problem that comes with age. This exposes the root surface to possible decay. He advises switching to a higher concentration fluoride toothpaste, as well as a mouthwash with fluoride, in order to help fortify the roots.

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