Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What is on your child’s toothbrush?

Kristen Griffiths
Kristen Griffiths, Alberta Health Services

The wall of dental products at any store can get confusing, especially for parents. Which toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash should I be using for myself and for my kids, and at what age should they start using different products?

The most important thing for parents to remember is to read the labels. Each product will have a recommended age, or will say if it’s not recommended until a certain age. It is also important to note everyone is different and may require specific products for their individual needs.

Alberta Health Services is currently recommending that parents brush their children’s teeth with water only from emergence of the first tooth to age three years, and then to use a pea- sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste after age three. Most children are not capable of spitting before the age of three, though we encourage parents to try and teach and develop this skill with their kids earlier. There are some instances where a dental professional may recommend a rice- sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste before age three.

These include, but are not limited to, if your child:
  • Sips from a bottle or sippy cup throughout the day or during the night
  • Has brown or chalky white spots on the teeth, or early signs of cavities
  • Has three or more snacks or drinks between meals and feedings
  • Does not have teeth brushed regularly

These are all activities that put your child at a higher risk of developing cavities. Dental disease and cavities in children has been linked to loss of sleep and appetite, delayed growth, poor learning and behaviour problems.

In 2009, the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) estimated 2.26 million school-days are lost annually in Canada due to dental visits and dental sick-days. The Canadian Dental Association is aware of this, and in 2005 started recommending that children have their first dental visit six months after the first tooth is visible - or by the age of one year.

These first visits serve to establish a healthy dental relationship early on. Studies have also shown that early interventions (such as education surrounding diet and daily mouth care, assessment and detection of cavities, developing a personalized preventative strategy and discussing topical fluoride use) can significantly decrease a child’s risk of developing Early Childhood Caries (ECC) aka: cavities.

A recent study done by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) showed that the treatment of dental cavities constituted 31- per- cent of all day- surgeries for children age one to younger than five, making it the number-one reason children of this age group undergo day-surgery. Early dental care and positive dental rapport improves the success rate for fillings and restorative work being done in community-based dental offices, therefore reducing the need for day- surgeries under general anesthesia.

If you have questions about what dental products to use for yourself or your children ask, a dental professional. Many dental offices, independent dental hygiene clinics and community health settings offer free “happy visits” for children who are three years old and younger. Alberta Health Services offers a free Fluoride Protection for Toddlers program at health units across the province for eligible children aged 12-35 months. Call your local Public Health office and/or private clinic to see what programs they have to offer.

Kristen Griffiths is a dental hygienist with Alberta Health Services’ Population Health Promotion and can be reached at 403-388-6776 or email

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