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News > Feature - Flossing, the other half of our child's oral care
Flossing, the other half of our child's oral care

Posted 2/6/2012   Updated 2/6/2012 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Spencer Lee
633rd Dental Squadron

2/6/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of three articles written in celebration of National Children's Dental Health Month, celebrated each February.

Isn't America's favorite pastime to visit their dentist? Without a doubt, each of us has fond memories as children of visiting our dentist for a filling or cleaning, right?

Perhaps not! Many adults have had a negative dental experience as a child, which may affect their overall oral health throughout adulthood. Individuals who "fear the dentist" are less likely to seek regular care through checkups and when conservative treatment can still be given.

Today's pediatric dentists use high-tech toys, such as television, video games and toys, to distract and comfort children. While pediatric dentistry has come a long way over the last few decades, we as parents can do our part to give our children the right tools to fight cavities.

Dental decay is a complex process involving bacteria, food, habits and genetics. Brushing is an indispensible part of the fight. Experts agree that children generally lack the manual dexterity to effectively brush until they are about 7 or 8 years old; about the time they can tie their own shoes.

However, often we ignore the other half of home care: flossing. Floss can go where no tooth brush has gone before -- in between teeth. Dental decay occurs just below where adjacent teeth contact each other. This is because food tends to get stuck in these places, leading to plaque that contains the bacteria necessary to create a cavity. As the tooth demineralizes, the bacteria will eventually invade the layers of the tooth causing sensitivity to cold and sweets. If left untreated, the nerve may become infected and die, causing severe pain, infection and possible tooth loss. The most effective way to clean between the teeth is with floss.

Proper flossing technique consists of first "wiggling" or "sawing" the floss through the contact between the teeth, taking care not to "snap" the floss into the gums. Below each tooth contact there are two teeth areas to clean: the tooth in front of the contact, and the one behind. Gently guide the floss to one side and towards the gums until you feel resistance. Then proceed to clean up to the contact with three swipes. Repeat for each tooth in the mouth.

If regular floss is difficult to use or awkward in your hands then try a new product. Disposable flossers, which are basically "floss on a stick", can be inexpensive and easier to use. Some come with characters or animals on the handles making them more entertaining. Different brands can be found in your local pharmacy or grocery store.

When should you start flossing your children's teeth? The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends beginning when "two or more teeth are too close together for a toothbrush to clean between them." When should your child start flossing on their own? Between the ages of 7 and 10, or whenever they can do so effectively.

A wise dentist once said "brush and floss the one's you want to keep!" Keep in mind that flossing is the other half of home care to help protect our children's teeth against dental decay.

For further information, check out "Healthy Smiles: a family guide" at

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