Flossing for kids: The correct time to start

Understanding why flossing for kids is just as important as adults

When to start flossing for kids?

We all understand the importance of flossing as adults, but have you ever stopped to consider that you should also start flossing for kids, by your own hand or their own, much sooner than you thought?

as adults, but have you ever stopped to consider that you should also start flossing for kids, by your own hand or their own, much sooner than you thought?

Flossing removes food remnants and plaque from the areas where a tooth brush can’t reach, specifically the area between the teeth, so it is safe to assume that you should start to floss your children’s teeth whenever food start to collect between their teeth, or in other words, as soon as they develop tight contacts between the teeth that are sufficient to trap food particles and remnants.

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So when is that? When is the correct time to start flossing for kids?

To answer this question, we must understand the chronology of teeth eruption (meaning the dates when each tooth start to appear in the mouth and their order). We were blessed with 2 full sets of teeth, one when we were children that are fully exchanged for the second set when we turn into adults, and so we could say that our teeth development is composed of 4 stages:

  1. 1
    No teeth Stage (or Edentulous Stage):
    The first 6 months of the life of your infant, where he\she develops no teeth and relies entirely on nursing for feeding and nutrition. Obviously, no need to brush or floss at this stage.
  2. 2
    Baby teeth Stage (or Deciduous Dentition stage):
    your baby usually develops his\her first tooth at the tender age of 6 months, and continues erupting more and more teeth until they reach 2 years of age, by which time all their baby teeth should have come out. Again at this stage, there is very little need for flossing as brushing alone is sufficient to clear the food debris and minimize the risk of decay and other problems. This stage lasts from 2 years to 6 years of age when the first permanent tooth comes out.
  3. 3
    Mixed teeth Stage:
    This stage starts at 6 or 7 years of age, the time when the first baby tooth is shed and the first permanent tooth comes out to stay. This age is also when the first permanent molars come out which need special care since they are the corner stone of the mouth. Flossing should start at this stage, since the child is big enough to understand its importance, the mouth is big enough to accommodate the hands which carry the floss, and the teeth have developed tight contacts by now. Some professionals would argue that flossing should start earlier, meaning by 2 or 3 years of age, saying that you need your child to accept flossing as a routine early enough so he\she develops a sense of responsibility, and also because of the contacts between the baby molars which could trap food.
  4. 4
    Permanent teeth Stage:
    This is when all the permanent teeth have come out, which usually happens around 12 or 13 years of age (except for wisdom teeth of course which usually come out at 20 years of age or older) and by that time, flossing should definitely be a habit.

Of course you shouldn’t expect your child to be able to handle a floss on his\her own at least until he\she are 6 or 7 years old, before that you should do it yourself. In the beginning it is very difficult for a child to handle a piece of string floss, so you should find another more suitable and easier method for them, such as floss picks, interdental brushes, or water flossers, and of course under strict supervision so they don’t injure themselves.

So how do you go about teaching your child the importance of flossing?

Children are resilient. They are like a sponge. At their young age, while they are exploring the world, try to make oral hygiene in general, and flossing in particular, a regular part of their day, so we suggest you do one or many of the following

  • Take care of your personal oral hygiene:
    Your child looks up to you, as you are the mirror to their world. When they see you brushing or flossing, they will be eager to do as you do, so in other words, start with yourself, and your child would follow.
  • Explain the importance of teeth and oral hygiene:
    If your child is old and smart enough to understand, you should definitely educate him\her, either verbally or with videos and pictures, on how brushing, flossing and taking care of their teeth could benefit them. Teach them the importance of a healthy mouth and a beautiful smile, and explain that when their teeth go bad, it is very hard to restore them, so they better keep them healthy.
  • Frequent visits to the dentist:
    Pediatric dentists are well trained for this situation. Part of their daily work schedule is teaching kids how and why to brush and floss, so if you find the task daunting, take advantage of the knowledge and advice of your child’s dentist.
  • Use examples of beautiful and healthy teeth:
    When a movie star or a celebrity comes on TV having a beautiful set of pearly whites, make sure to point that out to your kids, and encourage them to have teeth similar to these by regularly brushing and flossing.
  • Start a reward system:
    Children respond best to treats and rewards, so take advantage of that. Offer them a trip to the park or a small toy if they floss regularly for a week or two, and see how that goes.
  • Make it fun:
    Oral hygiene should not be a tiresome act, it should be perceived as fun or family time. Start by taking your kids with you while you shop for their brush and floss. Let them choose their own, and make them the boss.

In conclusion, when it comes to flossing for kids, it is not a question if you should do it because the answer is obvious, but the real question is “when and how?”

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