Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 3: Health Promotion and Protection

3.1 Health Promotion in Child Care

3.1.5 Oral Health Routine Oral Hygiene Activities

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 3/10/2016.

Caregivers/teachers should promote the habit of regular toothbrushing. All children with teeth should brush or have their teeth brushed with a soft toothbrush of age-appropriate size at least once during the hours the child is in child care. Children under three years of age should have only a small smear (grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste on the brush when brushing. The caregiver/teacher should monitor the toothbrushing activity and thoroughly brush the child’s teeth after the child has finished brushing, preferably for a total of two minutes. Those children ages three and older should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste (1). An ideal time to brush is after eating. The caregiver/teacher should either brush the child’s teeth or supervise as the child brushes his/her own teeth.  The caregiver/teacher should teach the child the correct method of toothbrushing. Young children want to brush their own teeth, but they need help until about age 7 or 8. Disposable gloves should be worn by the caregiver/teacher if contact with a child’s oral fluids is anticipated.

The cavity-causing effect of exposure to foods or drinks containing sugar (like juice) may be reduced by having children rinse with water after snacks and meals when toothbrushing is not possible. Local dental health professionals can offering education and training for the child care staff and providing oral health presentations for the children and parents/guardians.

Children whose teeth are properly brushed with fluoride toothpaste at home twice a day and are at low risk for dental caries may be exempt since additional brushing with fluoride toothpaste may expose a child to excess fluoride toothpaste.

Regular tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste is encouraged to reinforce oral health habits and prevent gingivitis and tooth decay. There is currently no (strong) evidence that shows any benefit to wiping the gums of a baby who has no teeth. However, before the first tooth erupts, wiping a baby’s gums with clean gauze or a soft wet washcloth as part of a daily routine may make the transition to tooth brushing easier. Good oral hygiene is as important for a six-month-old child with one tooth as it is for a six-year-old with many teeth (2). Tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least once a day reduces build-up of decay-causing plaque (2,3). The development of tooth decay-producing plaque begins when an infant’s first tooth appears in his/her mouth (4). Tooth decay cannot develop without this plaque which contains the acid-producing bacteria in a child’s mouth. The ability to do a good job brushing the teeth is a learned skill, improved by practice and age. There is general consensus that children do not have the necessary hand eye coordination for independent brushing until around age seven or eight so either caregiver/teacher brushing or close supervision is necessary in the preschool child. Tooth brushing and activities at home may not suffice to develop this skill or accomplish the necessary plaque removal, especially when children eat most of their meals and snacks during a full day in child care.
The caregiver/teacher should use a small smear (grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste spread across the width of the toothbrush for children under three years of age and a pea-sized amount for children ages three years of age and older (1). Children should attempt to spit out excess toothpaste after brushing. Fluoride is the single most effective way to prevent tooth decay. Brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste is the most efficient way to apply fluoride to the teeth. Young children may occasionally swallow a small amount of toothpaste and this is not a health risk. However, if children swallow more than recommended amounts of fluoride toothpaste on a consistent basis, they are at risk for fluorosis, a cosmetic condition (discoloration of the teeth) caused by over exposure to fluoride during the first eight years of life (5). Other products such as fluoride rinses can pose a poisoning hazard if ingested (6).

The children can rinse with water after a snack or a meal if their teeth have been brushed with fluoride toothpaste earlier. Rinsing with water helps to remove food particles from teeth and may help prevent tooth decay.

A sink is not necessary to accomplish tooth brushing in child care. Each child can use a cup of water for tooth brushing. The child should wet the brush in the cup, brush and then spit excess toothpaste into the cup.

Caregivers/teachers should encourage replacement of toothbrushes when the bristles become worn or frayed or approximately every three to four months (7,8).

Caregivers/teachers should encourage parents/guardians to establish a dental home for their child within six months after the first tooth erupts or by one year of age, whichever is earlier (4). The dental home is the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient, inclusive of all aspects of oral health care delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated and family-centered way. Currently there are insufficient numbers of dentists who incorporate infants and toddlers into their practices so primary care providers may provide oral health screening during well child care in this population while promoting the establishment of a dental home (2).

Fluoride varnish applied to all children every 3-6 months at primary care visits or at their dental home reduces tooth decay rates, and can lead to significant cost savings in restorative dental care and associated hospital costs. Coupled with parent/guardian and caregiver/teacher education, fluoride varnish is an important tool to improve children’s health (9-11).
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Toothbrushes and Toothpaste Oral Health Education Contents of Child’s Records Pre-Admission Enrollment Information for Each Child Contents of Admission Agreement Between Child Care Program and Parent/Guardian Contents of Child’s Primary Care Provider’s Assessment Health History Contents of Medication Record Contents of Facility Health Log for Each Child Release of Child’s Records
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Oral Health. 2014. Maintaining and improving the oral health of young children.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Pediatric Dentistry. 2008. Preventive oral health intervention for pediatricians. Pediatrics 122:1387-94.
  3. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Clinical Affairs Committee, Council on Clinical Affairs. 2008-2009. Guideline on periodicity of examination, preventive dental services, anticipatory guidance/counseling, and oral treatment for infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatric Dentistry30:112-18.
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Pediatric Dentistry. 2009. Policy statement: Oral health risk assessment timing and establishment of the dental home. Pediatrics 124:845.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fluoride Recommendations Work Group. 2001. Recommendations for using fluoride to prevent and control dental caries in the United States. MMWR50(RR14): 1-42.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013. Community water fluoridation.
  7. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Early childhood caries. Chicago: AAPD.
  8. American Dental Association. ADA positions and statements. ADA statement on toothbrush care: Cleaning, storage, and replacement. Chicago: ADA.
  9. Marinho, V.C., et al. 2002. Fluoride varnishes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database System Rev 3, no.  CD002279.
  10. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. 2006. Talking points: AAPD perspective on physicians or other non-dental providers applying fluoride varnish. Dental Home Resource Center.
  11. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine.2016. Policy statement: 2016 Recommendations for preventive pediatric health care.  

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 3/10/2016.