Is flossing important for kids?

Updated: Jan 22


Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood and is a preventable disease. Flossing helps prevent the development of cavities between teeth where toothbrushing cannot reach. Over 50% of children in non-fluoridated areas (fluoride added to household water) experience decay by their 5th birthday. There is a strong link between a child’s general health and wellbeing and their dental health. Frequently children get used to having discomfort and don’t complain of dental pain. Younger children or children with communication difficulties may not verbalise what is wrong. The first signs of problems may include that child being off their food, sleeping poorly or just being out of sorts. The following are some of the effects of decay in children’s teeth:

· Pain, distress and disruption to family life

· Infection, dental abscesses and facial swellings

· Bad breath

· Discomfort eating

· Difficulty sleeping or waking at night

· Poor growth and failure to thrive

· Poor socialisation and concentration at school

· Diminished quality of life

· Dental anxiety and phobias often develop after children have toothache

· Crowded teeth, impacted teeth and orthodontic problems due to early loss of baby teeth

· Decay in primary teeth often makes decayed adult teeth more likely

· Need for hospital admission and general anaesthesia

· Rarely children die from complications of dental infection

The curvy shape of baby molars makes them especially vulnerable to cavities in the spaces between the teeth. These molars also have thin enamel and large nerve spaces. This means that when decay starts it spreads rapidly to the nerve of the tooth. Therefore, pain and infection may develop very soon after decay starts. The spaces between back teeth often gather foods like fibres from meat or fruit. Once the space starts to trap food, toothbrushing alone will not be enough to remove the risk of a cavity starting. Flossing is the only reliable way to clean this area. Often this type of cavity will not be visible for many months. It is only by taking x-ray pictures that the decay can be picked up. Once the cavities are visible to the naked eye they usually require more complex, invasive and costly treatments to put the problem right. So flossing can help you save on your child’s dental expenses.

Cavities between back teeth are not always amenable to placement of fillings in baby molars. If the decay is too close to the nerve of the tooth, the tooth may require a crown or “silver cap” and “baby root canal treatment” pulp therapy to keep it in the mouth pain and infection free. These treatments require a tooth to be numbed with local anaesthetic or an injection. Wouldn’t it be better to prevent the cavities from starting in the first place?

Not all children need to have their teeth flossed. It is generally recommended to start flossing teeth once there are molars touching each other. If the spaces between the back teeth are open then there is no need to worry about flossing. The best way to be sure is to arrange a check-up and take professional advice. Once parents have received instruction on flossing and children have gotten used to the routine it shouldn’t take longer than a few seconds. I normally recommend flossing 5 out of 7 nights; take Friday and Saturday nights off.

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