Dentists consistently encourage their patients to floss. However, almost a third of Americans never floss their teeth, according to a recent survey. This is concerning for adults, but it’s especially troubling when it comes to children, who often emulate their parents’ oral hygiene habits. On a national level, peoples’ lackluster attitudes towards flossing could be creating a whole new generation of folks with terrible oral hygiene. Here’s some helpful info on flossing and kids.

Why kids should floss

Flossing keeps kids’ teeth and gums healthy when done on a regular basis. Flossing does about 40% of the work required to remove sticky bacteria, or plaque, from your teeth, according to WedMD.  Unflossed teeth are not completely clean, as the spaces in between teeth remained untouched without flossing, allowing bacteria to slowly erode teeth and gums. The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day to help remove plaque from the areas between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach. This is important because plaque that is not removed by brushing and flossing can eventually harden into calculus or tartar, causing more difficult cleanings and gum disease.

How young should your child start flossing?

Parents should actually start flossing their children’s teeth while they still have baby teeth. As a child’s teeth develop, the gaps between their teeth begin to reduce, allowing for bacteria to get in between teeth and making it difficult to clean just by brushing. Until a child can floss their own teeth efficiently, by around the age of 10 or so when they garner the coordination and dexterity to do it on their own, parents should floss for them. Some parents use the measurement that when a child can tie their shoes, they have enough dexterity to floss their teeth. As a parent, you know your child best, so you can make that determination of when they are ready to take on the responsibility of flossing. Beginning to floss your child’s teeth as soon as they start to touch, which could be as early as 3, helps your child understand the importance of the habit, protects their teeth and gums, and helps your child become accustomed to the sensation.

How to get kids to floss their own teeth

Even when a parent has been flossing their child’s teeth regularly, leaving the job of flossing to their child when they have the ability to do it still takes some work. Flossing does take practice. There are a few tips on how to get kids to floss their teeth, and do so correctly. Below are a few techniques of flossing:

  • Correctly hold the floss by winding about 18” of floss around the middle fingers of each hand; pinch floss between the thumb and index finger
  • Gently insert the floss between two teeth in a back and forth motion.  Curve the floss around each tooth in a C share and move it up and down each tooth
  • Be sure to use a clean piece of floss for each tooth
  • You can always buy the floss picks for your children, because they are easier to use and they still do a good job

I also recommend lying your child down to floss, then it is so much easier to see and maneuver the floss in their mouth – I know it sounds weird, but it absolutely works!  You could try flossing them when you tuck them into bed at night.

Need a little more support? There are many great videos that show kids how to brush their teeth.

Choosing the right floss

The “right” floss for your child is typically the one they’ll use! However, parents are surprised by how many different types of dental floss options there are. If you’re unsure what’s right for your child, test out a few and see which ones seem to be the easiest and most effective for your child.  There are also types of floss that are flavored with cinnamon, mint or bubble gum, or ones with no flavor at all. If you’re still unsure, ask your pediatric dentist for a recommendation.

Flossing is a lifelong oral hygiene habit that children should be exposed to at a young age.  Doing so will create strong lifelong habits of great oral hygiene.