Usually a child can be taught to brush his teeth as early as two years of age and no later than three. Parental supervision, of course, is important. And it is a good idea for the parents to brush their teeth at the same time and thus set the proper example. This also encourages the child to keep toothbrushing a part of his daily routine.
After the child has had an opportunity to do his share, the parent may want to go over the teeth again to be sure a thorough job has been done. Areas of special concern at that age are the tops or biting surfaces of all the back or molar teeth.
The cheek and tongue sides of those teeth, near the gumline, are frequently areas that decay because they are not brushed properly. Food particles are allowed to build up, causing a white ring around the teeth in this area. Even after the food material is removed, the acid from the food and bacteria may leave a white ring in the enamel as evidence of decay activity. Proper toothbrushing can do much to prevent this from happening.
It takes practice and a lot of effort to do a thorough job in cleaning the teeth with a toothbrush. By the age of three a child usually has twenty primary or baby teeth in the mouth. Each of these teeth has five surfaces that need to be cleaned. That amounts to one hundred tooth surfaces that need attention. In the permanent set of teeth, there are 32 teeth or 160 surfaces to keep clean. Think of that the next time you pick up your toothbrush!
Toothbrushing is probably the most widely practiced method of cleaning the teeth. Brushing in any old way is not good enough. There are several methods advocated by the dental profession. As has been stated in the November 1969 Journal of the American Dental Association, “Effectiveness of oral hygiene procedures is more a matter of technique and effort than of materials used.” You can improve on your technique, as well as the amount of effort you put into the cleaning of your teeth, with practice.
Any supplementary methods for cleaning teeth, such as the use of dental floss or tape, toothpicks and interdental stimulators should be done before brushing, especially if a medicated dentifrice is used. To do the most good, these cleaning agents need to reach the teeth.
Dental floss is probably more effective than any other method for cleaning between the teeth. Because it can be drawn down gently in between the teeth, it can dislodge food particles and debris that a toothbrush would never reach. This is important because most tooth decay and periodontal disease start between the teeth. Flossing should be followed with vigorous rinsing to wash away the loosened particles. If this procedure is followed up with a thorough brushing of the teeth and gums, the mouth will feel refreshingly clean.
There will be times when a person is caught without his toothbrush and toothpaste. When this happens, one can use a clean, rough washcloth to accomplish an emergency cleaning. Mouth rinsing will also help to a certain extent when no other method is available.