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how to teach a child to practice good oral hygiene

How to Teach a Child to Practice Good Oral Hygiene

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Teach a Child to Practice Good Oral Hygiene Early On:

Figuring out how to teach a child to practice good oral hygiene can be tough, especially if your little one is resistant. However, the good news is, as a Naperville dentist for kids, we have the expertise to not only keep kids’ teeth healthy but to also guide you, as a parent or guardian, in teaching your child oral hygiene. With the right strategies, your kiddo will be able to develop a strong homecare routine that promotes lifelong oral health.

In this post, we’ll talk about:

  • When to Start Brushing Your Baby’s Teeth?
  • The Basics of Brushing and Flossing Your Toddler’s Teeth
  • 8 Tips for How to Teach a Child to Practice Good Oral Hygiene

When to Start Brushing Your Baby’s Teeth?

Good dental hygiene should start when your child is still an infant. Once your baby is finished eating, whether breast milk or formula, wipe down their gums using a moist washcloth. While, of course, at this stage, you’re not necessarily teaching a child how to practice good oral hygiene, you are getting into a routine and establishing the foundation, which will make it easier when they get older.

When your baby begins eating solid food and starts teething, you can use a finger brush. This brush is made out of rubber, has soft bristles and slips onto your index finger comfortably. Gently rub the finger brush along your baby’s gum line and around the emerging teeth. 

You can start brushing your baby’s teeth when the first tooth fully erupts. Use the finger brush or a soft-bristled, infant-sized toothbrush and a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste, no larger than a grain of rice, to brush twice a day. 

Schedule your child’s first visit with a pediatric dentist by their first birthday. This will help your child build a rapport with the dentist and get used to the sights and sounds of the office. The dentist will also make sure your child’s little teeth and gums are healthy and their development is on track, as well as partner with you in teaching your child oral hygiene. 

The Basics of Brushing and Flossing Your Toddler’s Teeth

Now that your child has been to the dentist and has a mouth full of pearly whites, if you haven’t moved on to a toothbrush, it’s time to do that. Does the toothbrush matter? Yes, the type of toothbrush does matter. Use a child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush since toothbrushes with firm bristles can cause irritation in a little one’s mouth and could discourage them from brushing. 

Along with an appropriate toothbrush, continue using a smear of fluoride toothpaste up until age 3, at which point you can graduate to a pea-sized amount. Fluoride for kids is important. The naturally-occuring mineral strengthens the enamel and gets incorporated into the permanent teeth, making them more resistant to decay. However, too much fluoride for kids can be a bad thing and lead to fluorosis. Using only the recommended amount of toothpaste and talking with your dentist about your child’s fluoride intake will prevent this.

When you’re first teaching your child how to brush their teeth, it’s recommended that you do the brushing for them. Kids may not know how to properly hold a toothbrush and most don’t have the dexterity or motor skills to effectively eliminate plaque. 

When brushing kids’ teeth, stand behind them and reach around them to hold the toothbrush in a way that’s comfortable. Ask your child how it feels. If it hurts, stop and make sure the gums aren’t irritated. For really squirmy toddlers who don’t like brushing, sit on the bed or the floor and have your child lie with their head in your lap. This will give a bit more control. 

Brush your toddler’s teeth twice a day. When their teeth begin touching, start flossing your child’s teeth once daily. As you brush and floss, narrate what you’re doing so your little one begins to grasp the concept. Around the age of two or three, you can let your child brush their teeth on their own and then you can do a follow-up to make sure they didn’t miss any areas. This will help them develop some independence and learn the proper technique. 


young girl brushing teeth

8 Tips for How to Teach a Child to Practice Good Oral Hygiene

Towards the end of the toddler years, ramp up your teaching efforts so your child understands the importance of oral health and knows what to do to achieve it. Not sure where to start? Try these 8 tips for teaching your child oral hygiene:

  1. Let your child brush their own teeth but supervise their efforts until age 7 or 8 when they’re able to brush effectively. Having them brush in the mirror can help them see what they’re doing. 

  2. Use a toothbrush timer app or an actual physical timer to help kids brush their teeth for two full minutes each session. 

  3. Brush along with your child. Show them how to brush all the way to the back molars and along the gum line.

  4. Explain to your child what will happen if they don’t brush their teeth or brush them well enough. Talk to them about the causes of tooth decay in children, what cavities are and why it’s best to avoid them. Don’t scare them or use terms like “drill” or “hurt” when talking about the dentist. Instead, give them an overview of why oral hygiene is so important using kid-friendly, positive terms.

  5. Just like with brushing, floss for your child until they have the dexterity to do it on their own, usually around age 10. Once they’re older, you can floss your teeth in front of them and walk them through the technique. 

  6. Fun, kid-themed toothbrushes and tasty toothpastes can go a long way in helping kids get excited about oral hygiene. As for the best toothpaste for kids, we recommend a fluoride toothpaste with the ADA seal of approval. 

  7. Keep up with regular check-ups and cleanings at the pediatric dentist. We’ll make sure your child’s teeth and gums are healthy and evaluate how they’re doing with brushing and flossing. We’ll also educate you and your child on a variety of oral hygiene topics, including diet, homecare, fluoride for kids, oral habits and more. 

  8. Make flossing and brushing teeth for kids fun. You can follow all of the guidelines in the world for how to teach a child to practice good oral hygiene, but if brushing and flossing are constantly a negative experience, they won’t want to do it. Things like brushing to two minutes songs, brushing teeth as a family and turning oral hygiene into a game can make kids more likely to stick with it and want to learn. (For more ideas on how to make brushing teeth fun, download our free brushing guide.)

Following our tips for how to teach a child to practice good oral hygiene and talking about oral health from an early age will encourage kids to develop excellent habits that can last a lifetime. If you’re looking for the best pediatric dentist in Naperville or you’d like personalized guidance to help your child maintain a strong, bright smile, schedule an appointment at Innovative Pediatric Dentistry today! 

kids oral health

7 Ways To Improve Kids Oral Health in 2021

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Here Are 7 Ways To Improve Kids Oral Health in 2021

Happy New Year! If you made some resolutions this year, we have another one you can add to your list: improving your children’s oral health with excellent oral hygiene practices and smile-friendly habits. Oral health is so important and, in fact, it has a direct link to overall health, which is why teaching kids about caring for their teeth and gums early on is key. Our Naperville dentists for kids are here to help by sharing seven ways you can strengthen your child’s smile. Read More

Girl With Mouth Open In Surprise For A Walk In

What Causes Bad Breath in Kids and How to Get Rid of It?

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What Causes Bad Breath in Kids? and How To Treat It?

You go to give your child a hug and, as you get closer, you catch a whiff of their breath and let’s just say, it’s not very pleasant. Kids may be adorable but they can experience bad breath, technically called halitosis, just like adults. In fact, it’s a pretty common concern parents bring up with a Naperville pediatric dentist when they visit our practice. 

In this post, we’ll go over:

Why Does My Kid’s Breath Smell So Bad?

So, what causes bad breath in kids? There are a number of things that can be behind a child’s halitosis and the culprits vary depending on whether the bad breath is acute or chronic. While many causes are not a concern and are easily remedied, others are more serious and will require a trip to the pediatric dentist or pediatrician. 

Here are some of the main reasons for bad breath in babies toddlers, children and teens:

  • Stinky Foods

Foods with strong odors are a leading cause for kids’ halitosis. Digestion starts with the first bite, and garlic, cheese, onions and other pungent foods begin breaking down in the mouth. This can lead to a bad smell. Making matters worse is the fact that both garlic and onions contain sulfur compounds that hang out in the mouth for hours and are absorbed into the bloodstream and released when your kiddo exhales. Thankfully, this type of halitosis is temporary and doesn’t indicate anything is wrong with your child’s oral health. Unfortunately, brushing won’t completely get rid of bad breath in a child caused by sulfur-producing foods, and you’ll have to wait it out. 

  • Morning Breath

Morning breath isn’t just a common cause of bad breath in teens and adults, it can even cause bad breath in babies and toddlers. This is because everyone has odor-causing bacteria in their mouth, regardless of their age or how many teeth they have. At night, during sleep, saliva production slows down, so this bacteria isn’t washed away. When kids wake up, their breath can smell. Morning breath will go away when your child brushes their teeth and as their saliva flow ramps back up. 

  • Poor Oral Hygiene

If kids aren’t brushing and flossing their teeth often enough, or effectively enough, food particles and plaque will congregate and the smelly bacteria will release a stench. Don’t overlook the tongue when brushing either. Odor-causing bacteria attach to the skin cells on the back of the tongue.

  • Dental Concerns like Cavities, Infections or Loose Restorations

If your child has tooth decay (a cavity), it means the tooth is decaying, which doesn’t smell great. Food is also more likely to get trapped in the damaged area of the tooth, exacerbating bad breath in kids. Abscessed teeth can also lead to strong bad breath in children because it’s an infection, as can mouth sores. If your kiddo has a dental crown or filling that’s loose or broken, this too can result in halitosis since bacteria will accumulate under the restoration. 

  • Dry Mouth

Xerostomia, a fancy term for dry mouth, causes bad breath in kids in the same way morning breath does. Not enough saliva is being produced, so bacteria and food particles aren’t being washed away and the mouth starts to smell. However, while morning breath goes away quickly, dry mouth can be persistent when it’s due to a medical condition or medication. If dry mouth is from dehydration, on the other hand, having your child drink more water is an easy bad breath remedy. 

  • Gum Disease

Kids can have gum disease too. If soft plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) build up around and under the gum line and in between the teeth, the bacteria and toxins in the plaque can cause the gums to become inflamed and infected (gingivitis). Infection never smells good, which is why a symptom of gum disease in kids is recurrent bad breath. 

  • Mouth Breathing

Mouth breathing causes bad breath in toddlers and kids, because it creates dry mouth, which, as we’ve identified, is associated with stinky breath. If your child is breathing through their mouth because of a stuffy nose, halitosis should be short-term and go away once their congestion has cleared up. Mouth breathing in children can also be a habit that not only leads to bad breath, but creates orthodontic issues that will need to be fixed as well. It may be reversed if caught early, so if you suspect your child’s bad breath is from chronic mouth breathing, have it evaluated. 

  • Sinus Infection

Sinus infections can cause bad breath in babies, toddlers and people of all ages. The mucus often drips down the back of the throat and sits on the tongue. When the bacteria feeds on the gunk, it releases bad-smelling gases. 

  • Large Tonsils

If your child has tonsils with deep pits or their tonsils are very prominent, oral and nasal secretions, food debris and bacteria can get trapped. Additionally, tonsil stones (tonsilloliths) may develop in the pits and, as they decompose, give off a foul smell. 

  • Health Conditions

There are a number of health conditions that can cause bad breath in children, including diabetes, thrush, infections (like the sinus infection we mentioned), gastroesophageal reflux and, rarely, problems with the liver or kidneys. Bad breath in babies and kids doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your child, but if the dentist rules out the other causes of halitosis, it wouldn’t hurt to visit your pediatrician. 

  • An Object in the Nose

Yup, kids do some ill-advised things like sticking objects and food in their nose. This is especially common in the toddler years. So, if you’re worried about your toddler’s bad breath and their oral hygiene is excellent, check their nose. When something gets stuck in the nose, it causes nasal secretions, inflammation and a bad smell that can be mistaken for bad breath. If you do suspect your child stuck something up their nose, there’s a bad stench coming from their nostril, you see dark green mucus or they have a fever, seek medical attention. 


father and son brushing teeth together


How to Get Rid of Bad Breath in a Child

The success of bad breath remedies will depend on the underlying cause of kids’ halitosis. However, these tips will eliminate bad breath in the vast majority of cases:

  • Make sure kids are brushing their teeth twice a day for two minutes each session and flossing once daily. To eliminate bad breath in babies or toddlers, you’ll have to do the brushing and flossing for them. Older kids can brush on their own, but you might want to supervise to ensure they’re using good technique if their bad breath doesn’t seem to clear up in spite of their oral hygiene routine. Have kids brush their tongue too to remove any coating. 
  • Don’t let kids skip breakfast in the morning. Eating and drinking will kick-start their saliva production and help with morning breath.
  • Ward off dry mouth by having kids drink enough water every day. Ask them to rinse their mouth with water after meals and snacks too. 
  • Giving kids sugarless gum, particularly if it contains xylitol, is an excellent way to get rid of bad breath. While this may not be one of the best remedies for bad breath in toddlers since they’ll likely swallow it or cause a mess, it can be helpful for school-aged kids. Chewing gum gets saliva flowing, which washes away odor-causing bacteria. Xylitol is thought to reduce the risk of cavities by decreasing smelly plaque and bacteria. 
  • The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugars and starches. That’s why it’s key to encourage kids to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet and try to limit sugary treats and have starchy foods in moderation. Raw, fibrous fruits and vegetables like carrots and apples have the added benefit of scraping away odorous plaque as kids eat them. 
  • If bad breath in kids is caused by cavities, gum disease or another oral health concern, seek treatment from a pediatric dentist. They can get rid of the decay or infection and give you homecare tips for keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy. 
  • Speaking of pediatric dentists, regular check-ups and cleanings are super important. During professional cleanings, we use special tools to eliminate hardened plaque, which will improve your child’s breath. Your pediatric dentist will also evaluate your child’s teeth and gums and talk with you about their health history, allowing them to treat problems early on before they become more serious and create halitosis. 
  • Try to break your child’s mouth breathing habit. Pediatric dentists are trained in helping children nix harmful oral habits, so bring it up at your next appointment. 
  • For bad breath in kids that’s from a health condition, chatting with your pediatrician about how to best manage the condition can also help with your child’s breath. If bad breath is from a medication and if it’s bothersome or your child is embarrassed by it, you may want to discuss alternatives with their doctor. 

When Should You See a Pediatric Dentist for Bad Breath in Children?

If your child’s bad breath is accompanied by tooth pain, make an appointment with your pediatric dentist right away as it could be a sign of a cavity. If they have a fever too, they may be suffering from an infection, so seek medical or dental care as soon as possible. 

For mild cases of bad breath in kids that come and go, it’s not an emergency. Try our tips for how to get rid of bad breath in a child and keep a close eye on the situation to see if it improves. If your little one’s halitosis is persistent and none of our bad breath remedies work, bring it up with your child’s dentist. 

When a patient visits Innovative Pediatric Dentistry with halitosis, a Naperville dentist for kids will take their medical history, including asking about health conditions or medications they’re taking. They may sniff your child’s breath too. That might sound strange but it’s a reliable way to determine the underlying cause of halitosis since certain issues like tooth decay and diabetes have very distinct odors. Of course, they’ll also perform a thorough exam to check for issues, such as plaque build up, loose fillings or crowns, and cavities.

If you’re concerned about your what causes bad breath in kids, schedule a visit at Innovative Pediatric Dentistry today. We’re experts in the oral health needs of kids and we’ll determine the reason for your child’s bad breath and create a plan to treat it. 


8 Fun Dental Crafts for Kids to Celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month

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February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! The annual, month-long initiative is meant to promote the benefits of good oral health in children. In honor of the occasion, our Naperville pediatric dentistry practice is sharing eight fun dental health crafts for preschoolers. By diving into oral health in a creative, hands-on way, it will get little ones excited about caring for their smile. Read More


8 Tips for Teaching Kids to Brush Their Teeth

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We’ve covered everything from how to make brushing teeth fun to ways to get kids to brush their teeth for two full minutes but what about how to actually teach children the mechanics of brushing their teeth? Little ones aren’t born knowing how to wield a toothbrush. It’s something they need to learn and practice over time in order to effectively banish plaque and keep their teeth and gums healthy. Yet, for adults, it’s easy to take knowing how to brush your teeth for granted and it can seem surprisingly tough to show another person how to do it properly.   Read More

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Don’t Listen To These 7 Myths About Baby Teeth

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children's dental emergencies

Here’s How to Handle 6 Common Children’s Dental Emergencies

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Common Children’s Dental Emergencies

Kids are always on the move and from a knocked out baby tooth to a chipped or fractured permanent tooth, sometimes, dental emergencies happen. Thankfully, when they do occur, with some quick thinking and action, children’s teeth can often be saved. To help you preserve your child’s smile in case of an injury or other concern, our Naperville pediatric dentists are sharing tips for handling common children’s dental emergencies.  Read More


A COVID-19 Back-to-School Checklist for Parents

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Our Annual Guide to Things to do With Kids in Naperville This Summer: Social Distancing Edition

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We usually share what to do with kids in Naperville throughout the year to give parents ideas for keeping tiny tots, children and teens entertained. While this summer will look a lot different, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fun activities you can do with your kids locally or even in your own backyard while practicing social distancing. To help, we’re sharing our annual guide to things to do with kids in Naperville this summer.  Read More