When Should I Start Flossing My Child’s Teeth?

Hi Dr. Lauren!  Two-part question: First, do I need to floss my child’s teeth and if so, when should I start flossing my little one’s teeth?

When To Start Flossing Your Child’s Teeth

Awesome questions! Let me cover some background first.  Plaque, which is a combination of food and bacteria, develops on our teeth and contributes to tooth decay and periodontal disease.  Due to the way our teeth are aligned in our mouths, only 60% of the surfaces of our teeth are usually accessible and can be cleansed by toothbrushing.  The remaining 40% of the surfaces of our teeth, what we call the “interproximal surfaces” which is just a fancy way of saying “the sides of our teeth” :), are typically not accessible with a toothbrush.  When teeth are aligned side by side and touch tightly together the bristles of a toothbrush are not able to reach these surfaces, thus these surfaces are not cleaned.  One of the only ways to properly clean the sides (between) our teeth is to use dental floss.  In other words, if teeth are touching together, they should be flossed.

Many children have large spaces or gaps between their teeth.  Typically, when teeth have gaps, the sides of the teeth and the gums in these areas can be cleansed properly with a toothbrush.  However, a parent must look closely at their child’s teeth.  Oftentimes, the front teeth have gaps between them and the back teeth are touching tightly together.  In these cases, it is important to floss between the back the teeth.   It is important to begin flossing a child’s teeth as soon as a parent observes that the teeth are touching together.  For some parents, this means flossing begins as soon as the first two teeth erupt if they are touching together.  Flossing teeth takes an extensive amount of coordination and should only be performed by a parent/adult.  As flossing is a complicated skill to develop, parents should continue to aid in flossing their child’s teeth until the child has mastered the skill which could be as old as 10-11 years.  Flossing should be done daily as part of the child’s evening oral hygiene routine.

How To Floss Your Child’s Teeth

Flossing can be done with traditional string/tape floss or dental floss picks.  If using traditional dental floss, one should start with approximately 18 inches of floss. Wind the floss ends tightly around the middle fingers or the index fingers leaving only about 1 inch of floss in the middle.  Use the thumb and index finger to guide the floss in a gentle back and forth sawing motion to get the floss between the teeth.  Make a “C” shape with the floss to “hug” one tooth and slide the floss up and down 2-3 times in a wiping motion along the side of the tooth.  Make sure the floss goes gently below the gums next to the tooth.  Do the same action to the adjacent tooth.  Remove the floss from between the teeth in the same back and forth sawing motion.  Do not snap.  Use clean sections of floss as you move tooth to tooth.

When flossing, make sure that both the parent and the child are in comfortable positions.  Sometimes the best position to brush and floss a child’s teeth is to lay the child down.  This position allows the parent/adult to come from above and behind to reach the child’s teeth and aids in stabilization of the child’s head.  Another comfortable position to perform a child’s oral hygiene is for the parent to stand slightly behind and to the side of the child.  I’ve included a short video (linked below) of a dentist flossing her own children’s teeth.  They make it a fun experience!  After this video is done, you’ll want your children to learn the phrase, “assume the position!”

Best of luck flossing! May the floss be with you!