Selected Podcast

How to Teach Kids About Good Oral Hygiene

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the most common childhood disease. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t. Dr. Chi Nguyen, a dentist at the ICHS Holly Park Dental Clinic, wants to educate parents on how to protect their children’s teeth from cavities.

How to Teach Kids About Good Oral Hygiene
Featured Speaker:
Kim Chi Nguyen, DDS

Chi Nguyen is the newest dental provider to join the ICHS Holly Park Dental Clinic. She served the pediatric population in Houston, Texas for four years before joining ICHS. She received her Doctor of Dental Surgery in 2017 from the University of Texas School of Dentistry. Dr. Chi is excited to serve people of various backgrounds by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate health services and promoting health equity for all. As an advocate, provider, and teacher, she believes in establishing trusting relationships with patients to help them achieve perfect dental health.

How to Teach Kids About Good Oral Hygiene

 Amanda Wilde (Host): February is National Children's Dental Health Month, an annual reminder to families that children should adopt good oral health habits early to improve the chance of having healthy teeth and gums throughout life. Today, we spotlight ways to keep kids teeth healthy with Dr. Chi Nguyen, who is a dentist at ICHS Holly Park Medical and Dental Clinic.

Welcome to Together We Rise, a podcast from International Community Health Services. ICHS advocates for health as a human right and welcomes all in need of care regardless of health, immigration status, or ability to pay. I'm your host, Amanda Wilde. Welcome, Dr. Nguyen, and thank you so much for being here.

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Yes, thank you for having me.

Host: Well, good oral hygiene habits are important, and I think the standard we all know is brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Is that enough to constitute good oral hygiene habits?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: I would say for the standard, yes. Across the board, brushing twice a day and flossing once is enough. But I think when it comes to getting down to the details of it, it's a little more for children because, well, they're still developing and so motor skills are not up to par. And so, as a dentist, I do recommend some sort of parent-assisted brushing for kids, around under eight years old. And just a quick add-in is if they can't tie their shoes correctly or tightly, then they probably won't be able to brush their teeth on their own quite yet.

Host: That's a good measure.

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Yeah. I usually tell my parents, hey, you might want to help them maybe brush at night more specifically. And if they really are adamant about brushing their own teeth, you can let them brush in the morning and, you know, parents can follow up at nighttime and brush and floss at night too. So just more assisted. But yes, as far as brushing twice a day and flossing, that's enough.

Host: I think with the twice a day brushing in the evening is really important because when you rinse, then you sleep on that. And if you don't rinse, if you don't brush, then you're sleeping with all this stuff on your teeth. Can you describe a little more about what is that? You know, when you don't brush, what happens, what leads to cavities and what happens when they go untreated?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Yeah. So, I mean, imagine, you know, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and drinking juice and drinks throughout the day. And sure, water can wash off some of it, and saliva can wash off some of it, but you need that brushing, that hard, something more abrasive that's going to actually clean your teeth. And so, it is important to brush, especially at nighttime. Because if you don't, then the plaque and the leftover food sits on your teeth overnight. And that's when something called demineralization or any sort of acidic activity that happens at night, that can easily create cavities. That's where it's really important to have oral hygiene and keeping the teeth clean, especially overnight.

Host: What happens to cavities if they're not treated?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: So, cavities, they are basically your teeth getting eroded or worn down, and little holes are created, and that's usually how cavities start. But once it gets past the enamel layer of your teeth, which is like the protective layer of your teeth, it gets big really fast. And so, cavities grow and grow and grow, and it can involve something called the nerve in your tooth, which is sort of like this tissue that sits in the middle of your tooth. And once that gets involved, then it just opens like a can of worms, basically.

Host: And you said that what we eat and drink during the day stays on our teeth until we really brush that off. How important is a child's diet in developing and then maintaining strong, healthy teeth?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Well, diet is very important because it provides nutrition. You know, vitamins and things like that are important for tooth development. And it's not just baby teeth that are being developed at this age. It's permanent teeth as well. And so, any sort of nutrition deficiency can lead to the tooth not being formed strong or developed correctly. And so, that can lead to a higher risk of cavities. Yeah, so the teeth are just not formed with a lot of strength. If there's not a lot of nutrition like a good diet.

Host: And speaking of diet, what is better for teeth? Bottled water, tap water with fluoride, or some other kind of water?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: I would recommend tap water with fluoride. Tap water has the perfect amount of fluoride that's needed to reinforce the protective layer of the teeth and it doesn't cause toxicity.

Host: What is fluoride varnish? I've heard of that. It happens at the dentist, right?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Yeah. So, it usually comes in like a sticky gel consistency. It's basically concentrated fluoride. It's a super packed fluoride. And it's super concentrated, so it basically acts like a booster for the enamel of the teeth.

Host: And then, I've heard there are dental sealants for preventing cavities. How effective are those?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Dental sealants are particularly important for new teeth that are coming in. And so, I usually recommend it for kids that are around 6 is usually the beginnings of when I recommend sealants. It's mainly because around 6 years old, they get their first permanent molars. And any new tooth that typically comes in, it's still pretty vulnerable in a way. It hasn't developed a protective layer yet, and so it's still more prone to cavities. And so, the sealants are basically like a liquidy, flowable material. It's very similar to filling material, but it's more liquidy. And so, it's designed to flow into the grooves and crevices of teeth to prevent food from getting into those areas and getting stuck in those areas.

Host: So, the varnish and the sealants are really good support for developing teeth that didn't used to exist, at least when I was a kid.

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Yeah. Well, not just development, but it's a very good preventive measure. It's great for preventing cavities, I would say.

Host: And how often should kids come in to see their dentist for cleanings or checkups?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: The general answer to that question would be around six months, but depending on the cavity's risk as well. So, it could be due to diet and whatnot, but kids under three years old is usually recommended to come in every three months.

Host: Ah. Now, one thing that hasn't changed, although even with COVID, this still happens, sharing food, utensils, water with kids. Should parents do that within the family? Is that okay?

Chi Nyugen, DDS: I don't recommend it. Because, again, sharing food means sharing bacteria, right? So, you're potentially introducing bacteria that the kids don't have. And so if bacteria count in a child's mouth increases, then that also increases the risk of food like sugars getting converted into acid.And that in turn can cause cavities. So, it does essentially increase the risk of cavities in their mouth when you do that. So, I normally don't recommend. That includes kissing and things like that. And so, it's not just among the parents as well, but also siblings. So, there's something called vertical transfer, which is when bacteria from the parents get transferred to the kids, but there's also horizontal transfer as well. And that's when siblings share food and utensils and water and it gets transferred to the kid's mouth.

Host: And really, there's enough bacteria around that we don't need to be consuming extra.

Chi Nyugen, DDS: No.

Host: These are great tips. Thank you so much for these insights into good dental health for kids.

Chi Nyugen, DDS: Yeah.

Host: That was Dentist Dr. Chi Nguyen, and for more information, go to If you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and check out the entire podcast library for topics of interest to you. This has been Together We Rise, a podcast from International Community Health Services.