It was already 9:30 pm, well beyond his bed time, and my 2 year old son was fighting toothbrush time with the fierceness of a cornered lion. A task that was supposed to take 2 minutes had now become 10, and I was exhausted. Earlier that week a friend had told me that they started flossing with their son at age two. Flossing? Really?! After the struggle I had just been through I thought they were crazy. Surely, the intense effort I was putting into brushing was enough, right? I assured myself that I would start flossing his teeth as soon as brushing got easier. I was spending more than the recommended 2 minutes trying to brush his teeth every day so I thought everything would be fine.
Fast forward 3 years, it turns out that tooth decay doesn’t care about my good intentions. My 5 year old now had two cavities, and it was because I failed to start flossing when I should have.
He looks cool in these sunglasses but this was a low point for me as a dad because he is getting cavities filled that I could have prevented.
At what age should I start flossing my child’s teeth?
As soon as two teeth are touching, or very close to touching, it is time to start flossing. As you can see in the chart below, the range of ages that children’s teeth come in varies quite a lot. Because of this, age alone isn’t a good way to judge when you should start. If the teeth are in but a gap is still large, consistent brushing should be all you need but… it is never a bad idea to gently introduce the sensation of flossing even when teeth aren’t yet close together. Frequent positive interactions with both the toothbrush and the dental floss will make flossing and brushing easier down the road.
For many children, the gap between the canine and the first molar (before age two), and the first molar and the Second molar (usually after their second birthday), are the places that grow close together first so they need to be watched the most carefully. (The chart below has red stars in the places that should be most carefully monitored.) Unfortunately, these back teeth are also the hardest to reach for flossing.
How do I know if my child’s teeth are too close for brushing alone?
The safest way to answer this is that if you aren’t quite sure, play it safe and start flossing. The first time that you do find bits of food on the floss even after brushing is when you for sure know that daily flossing is required to avoid potential cavities, but being proactive about it is best.
Below is an image of my three year old’s mouth. Some teeth don’t yet need flossing, some might so we do them to be safe, and his back molars ABSOLUTELY do (we find bits of food hiding out between them all the time) We have needed to floss his back molars since he was 2.
By now you may have determined it is time to start flossing your toddler’s teeth but you might be wondering how to go about doing it. As a dad who now has some experience, I hope the following tips might help you through the process.
How to floss a reluctant toddler’s teeth
For most of us, our toddlers don’t make flossing easy. We can’t blame them though. Flossing isn’t exactly a comfortable experience and sometimes it can even hurt.
The Sugar Bug Hunt
In our family, to show our toddler how important it is and to make it fun, we now like to do what we call the “sugar bug hunt”. It’s a simple game, maybe a little gross, but your toddler will love it. It goes like this.
- We eat a big meal with our toddler. Making sure they get some of their favorite foods.
- Immediately after eating, we grab a flosser.
- We tell our toddler that the flosser is a sugar bug trap and that we are hunting for sugar bugs.
- For our kids, the more we get into the hunt the better this goes: “oh, I think I see one” “Oh no, he is trying to get away, quick, open wider!”
- If any food ends up on the dental floss we get excited and show it to them explaining “we got one we got one!!!”
This game in our family has helped us turn a scary, and sometimes uncomfortable chore, into something that our kids have become excited about.
For Some, The Brushing Buddy Can Help
Whether it is time to start flossing, or you are still at an early enough stage where brushing is all you need, we have found that some of our kids DO NOT like the feeling of a toothbrush or flosser and can’t help but clamp their mouth shut when those bristles start to tickle their gums.
That is why I designed the Brushing Buddy. For infants and babies, it is a fun dinosaur shaped silicone teether with lots of textures to satisfy their gums. For toddlers however it serves a second purpose. The dino tail is specifically shaped just like the silicone bite blocks that dentists use to keep children’s mouths open wide. It is easy to hold onto and the tail gently props your child’s mouth open so you can reach those back teeth with ease.
If you want to try it out, enter discount code “sugarbughunter” at checkout to get 10% off.
How often should I floss my toddler’s teeth?
My dentist says that while I do need to brush their teeth at least twice daily, I only need to floss with them once a day. This makes me happy. He says too that ideally, it is better to floss right before brushing instead of after.
For all the moms, dads and caregivers out there struggling to clean those little teeth, I feel your pain, the struggle is real! Keep up the good work. It will all pay off when you get to strut confidently into the dentist office knowing your kid’s teeth are healthy. For those of you scratching your head wondering what all the fuss is about because your child happily sits quietly as you brush and floss… well, celebrate the fact that you don’t know the pain the rest of us are going through.
Happy Brushing and Flossing!
About the author
Mike Perry is a dad to 6 kids with a lot of experience brushing and flossing their teeth. He is a product designer and he and his wife run snoofybee.com together.
Save 10% on the Brushing Buddy with discount code: “sugarbughunter” at checkout. Try it worry free. Snoofybee offers a full money back guarantee on all returns for any reason.