When Should Children Brush Independently?
We often find that young children are quite enthusiastic about their independence with brushing, yet they still get cavities! We know it is tempting to take a hands off approach when your youngster is able to brush with an appropriate amount of toothpaste, but if they are not doing a good job then food and plaque left on the teeth overnight can lead to cavities. There are a few considerations regarding the quality of brushing:
When the recommendation for brushing is 2 minutes, this is the average amount of time needed to effectively clean all surfaces of the teeth and tongue. The 2 minutes is not a good indicator of the quality of brushing if some surfaces are left behind!
A certain level of manual dexterity is needed to reach all the surfaces of the teeth, particularly the backsides of the upper and lower molars. Because it is a difficult area to brush and not an area of the tooth that gets swept by the tongue, there is often a large build up of food and plaque that requires more time to clean. Cleaning behind the molars is also quite difficult because of how little space there is towards the back of the mouth. Young children can develop good manual dexterity/hand skills at different ages, and so it is important to recognize that some children will need more help that others.
Just like we are motivated to brush and floss before and after seeing the dental hygienist, children can put more effort into brushing only when under supervision. It is possible that when they are not being supervised, young children are not doing as good of a job brushing as they used to!
In general, it is recommended that young children be supervised when brushing to check on the quality of the brushing. Especially when there are new teeth coming in (6 year and 12 year molars), it is important to make sure that the children are brushing further back. Once children are able to demonstrate tasks that require a certain level of manual dexterity (eg. tying their own shoelaces, or being able to write well) they are usually capable of all the toothbrush motions for adequate brushing.