Proper technique and good habits are keys to maintaining oral health, not toothbrushes — manual or electric. Image Credit: Supplied

Getting children to clean teeth properly is an uphill task. The business of brushing begins by choosing a decent toothbrush. This is the easy part. Vying for attention, most oral-care brands have flooded the market with products, leaving children spoilt for choice. Every cartoon character worth its fame, from princesses to superheroes, help kids manually keep teeth clean.

But it's the age of gadgets; conventional practices must make way for high-tech methods, and it appears even children's teeth aren't safe, with Philips launching their Sonicare for Kids, the first electric toothbrush for children aged 4-10. The Dh400 toothbrush has smaller brushheads and musical timers to tell the child when to move around to a different part of the mouth. "Dental professionals are looking for ways to empower parents to instill effective brushing habits in their children for superior results in at-home dental care," says Vincenzo Ventricelli, marketing director at Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Middle East and Africa.

But do kids really need a pricey electrical device to keep their teeth clean? Dentists say it's not a bad idea — as long as it's used properly. "Power toothbrushes ensure proper removal of food with the same intensity from the beginning of the brushing until the end," says Dr Dina Debaybo, paediatric dentist at Drs Nicolas & Asp in Dubai.

Dr Maya, paedodontist, Dr Joy Dental Clinic, concurs: "Electric toothbrushes clean the teeth better and decrease the amount of plaque because of the increased brush strokes per minute. They are very useful for young kids who lack motor skills or the patience to clean their teeth thoroughly."

However, poor brush technique won't be corrected by an electric toothbrush, says Dr Imneet Madan, specialist paediatric dentist at Dr Michael's Dental Clinic. She says any toothbrush — manual or electric — must be used properly to be fully effective. "Some people do very well with manual brushing and some could be appalling even with the electric ones."

A toothbrush is effective when the child feels comfortable using it. According to the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry (www.aapd.org), for best results parents must supervise brushing at least until the age of 8. Cavities and gum inflammation usually occur when plaque has not been properly removed. "When food remains on the teeth, the mouth turns into growth milieu for bacteria," warns Debaybo. Children need to be taught to clean their gum lines and the tooth surface twice a day, once in the morning after breakfast and at night before going to bed.

And even the most effective and regular brush technique won't prevent damage if fizzy drinks, potato chips, sweets and chocolates are on the menu. "Children should be guided against snacking habits," Madan says. "I advise kids to collect sweets in individual candy bags for weekends and then enjoy a few at a time followed by good brushing."

— Shahana Raza is a UAE-based freelance writer