Health & Nutrition

Explaining oral health concepts to young children

As we move into February, our second month of setting healthy habits for 2023, FIRST 5 Santa Clara County celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month. This is the perfect time to promote the benefits of proper oral hygiene because developing these dental habits from the beginning helps children get the best start on a lifetime of health. Teaching young children to keep their brand-new teeth healthy and clean can be challenging especially with the vast amount of information available at your finger tips. The American Dental Association helps to simplify all this.

Teach children the importance of their teeth by discussing:

  • Why we need teeth. Our teeth are important because they help us talk properly, chew our food and give us beautiful smiles!
  • Characteristics of our teeth. Our teeth are hard, have some sharp or cutting edges and are strong. If our teeth were soft and weak, we couldn’t chew, it would be hard to talk, and our teeth might break.
  • The number and purpose of baby (primary) teeth. When did you get your teeth? [When you were a baby.] Why do babies need teeth? [To learn how to talk and so that they can eat solid food.] How many baby teeth do children get? [Children get 20 teeth by the time they are 3 or 4 years old.]
  • Sets of teeth in a lifetime. Will you have these 20 teeth your whole life? [No.] What happens to your teeth when you get to be 5 years old or older? [Your teeth start to come out and you lose your baby teeth. As children get bigger, they need bigger, stronger teeth. Your 20 baby teeth will be replaced by 32 permanent teeth.] These permanent teeth are made to last the rest of your life! So, we get two sets of teeth during our life: baby teeth (primary teeth) and adult teeth (permanent teeth).

Teeth are a special part of our body and do several very important jobs throughout our lives.

Teach children that cleaning our teeth helps keep them strong and healthy by discussing:

  • What can you do to keep your teeth clean and healthy? [Brush your teeth.] How often should you brush your teeth? [Twice a day.] Why do you use toothpaste? [Cleans better than just water, gets the food off your teeth, makes your teeth stronger, makes your mouth taste good.] How much fluoride toothpaste should you put on your toothbrush? [You only need a very little bit of toothpaste on your toothbrush — about the size of a little green pea.] Move the toothbrush back and forth gently in short strokes. Brush the top, front, and back sides of each tooth. Use a child-size toothbrush that is easy to hold. Get a new toothbrush when the bristles are bent and worn out.
  • What is plaque. When you brush your teeth at night, they feel clean and your mouth tastes good, if you don’t brush your teeth before going to bed, how does your mouth feel when you wake up in the morning? [Tastes bad, smells bad, teeth feel sticky.] That is because there is something else that gets on your teeth besides the food you eat. It’s called plaque. Although you can’t see it, plaque is a sticky, clear film that is forming on your teeth all the time.
  • How plaque contributes to cavities. Plaque is bad for your teeth because it contains germs. The germs in the plaque can hurt your teeth by making a little hole called a cavity. What do you think happens if you take a nice strong tooth and put holes in it? [It isn’t as strong anymore. The tooth gets weaker.] Plaque and cavities make our teeth weaker that’s why it is so important to brush all the plaque off our teeth. You should brush two times a day, once in the morning and then before going to bed at night.
  • Proper nutrition. There is another way we can help keep our teeth clean and healthy. That is by eating and drinking healthy foods. The foods we eat are just as important for keeping our teeth healthy as they are for keeping our bodies healthy. Eating a mix of healthy foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the best way to keep your teeth and whole body in good shape. Don’t drink too much sugary drinks or eat too many sweets.

Now we know how important it is to keep our teeth clean. We should brush two times a day, remove plaque and eat healthy foods.

Teach children why it is important to visit the dentist by discussing:

  • Why is it important to visit the dentist? The dentist is a friendly doctor who will help keep your teeth healthy and strong.
  • The role of the dentist.
  • The dentist’s office- What interesting things did you see in your dentist’s office? [Discuss answers, which might include the exam chair, special light, special tools, dental mask and gloves, etc.] Your dentist has all sorts of interesting things in the office. The special chair moves up and down so that people of different sizes can sit in it, and the dentist can see easily into all their mouths. The light helps your dentist see into mouths, too. Your dentist also has some other special things in the office. The little mirror lets your dentist see your back teeth; the “feeler” tool helps the dentist count your teeth; the x-ray machine takes pictures of the insides of your teeth; the bib protects your clothing; and there is even a little hose to spray water into your mouth.
  • The dental team- What other people might you see at your dentist’s office? Who else works there? [Receptionist, dental assistant, dental hygienist.] The receptionist works at the desk and greets you when you come in. The dental assistant helps the dentist by getting the exam room ready. The dental hygienist also helps the dentist and may clean your teeth with special cleaners.
  • The dental exam- What is your dentist looking for when checking your teeth? Your dentist counts your teeth, sees if you are brushing properly, checks to make sure your teeth are growing the correct way, and looks for cavities. Your dentist also checks your tongue and the inside of your mouth to make sure they are healthy, too! If you have any questions about your teeth or how to take care of them, ask your dentist. Your dentist is a friendly doctor who wants you to have healthy, shining teeth.

Teaching children about their teeth, how to take care of their teeth daily and visiting a dentist for regular check-ups are three fundamental components for lifelong bright and healthy smiles!!

Please visit our Oral Health Care page for more information on age-appropriate oral health care tips and community resources for oral health education, dental insurance and dental clinics.