Should I floss my child's teeth?
Let us first explore the purpose of flossing. Flossing is the action of using a dental floss to remove food debris and plaque in between teeth. When you brush your teeth, you will not be able to remove the plaque and food debris that are lodged between the teeth, especially if there is no space between the teeth. Dental floss is one of the few items that are used to remove food debris or plaque from in between teeth. Toothpicks and interdental brushes (looks like a mini bottle brush) can be used as well but these are only for teeth with quite large gaps between them. For children, a dental floss is more useful and less likely to cause trauma to the gums compared to a toothpick or interdental brush.
Your child will need flossing at areas where the teeth are in close contact to each other because that’s where food debris and plaque will get stuck. Flossing your own teeth and flossing your child’s teeth can feel very different. Of course it is easier for an adult to floss his/her own teeth. Children can’t floss on their own until they can demonstrate that they are doing it well…which is usually at least about 10-11 years old. Parents or caregivers need to help their child to floss until they feel that the child is ready to floss on his or her own. Generally, my advice to parents is to start flossing when the child is about 4-5 years old. I find that at this age, the child would usually be less fidgety during brushing sessions and more tolerant as well as cooperative. However if parents want to start flossing for their children at an earlier age, there is no harm. Start good habits early!
Flossing should be done once daily preferably at night before toothbrushing. Dental floss comes in different patterns, but the common ones include the string type (top pic left) and the straight floss pick type (top pic centre). For those who are starting to floss for their child, using a floss pick may be easier. Use a Y-shaped floss pick (top pic right) to allow easier access to the back teeth. Just be careful of the other end of the floss pick which may be sharp. There are some floss picks designed in colourful patterns to encourage your child to floss his/her teeth but essentially there is not much difference with other normal floss types.
When pushing the floss past the contact between the teeth, you may need to do a see-saw motion. However, once the floss passes the contact and is at the gums, do not do a see-saw motion. Use an up-and-down motion against the side of the tooth to dislodge the food or plaque. This helps to prevent discomfort to the gums. Here’s a good video on YouTube on how to floss the proper way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTWyx0iI01o (all credits to the owner of the video Hermosa Beach Dentist Dr Mondavi).
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better and faster you do it overtime. Start simple first between certain teeth and slowly increase to cover flossing of the whole mouth overtime. It will take time for the child to get used to it but once it becomes a habit, it will become easier.