As a mother of two very determined kids, I understand that brushing and flossing our children’s teeth can at times be a mammoth task. At the beginning it involved screaming, kicking, a little begging and bribery, small threats and two parents teaming up against our toddler. Fortunately these days it is just something that we do. Bodhi enjoys it because he loves the toothbrushing song, and Willow understands why she needs clean teeth.
It is important to remember that baby teeth are essential for our child’s health and development. Teeth are necessary for chewing, and help them speak and smile. They hold space for normal eruption of the adult teeth and early loss of baby teeth can lead to crowding and crooked teeth. That is why it is important to establish good oral health early on in life.
Begin a good routine early by wiping your baby’s gum with a soft wet cloth. This removes bacteria and gets your child used to you cleaning the inside of their mouth.
As soon as the first tooth appears, you should transition to brushing. The best way to brush your baby teeth is to have your baby on your lap with their head resting on your arm while you support their chin. A soft and small children’s toothbrush should be used in a gentle circular motion. You don’t need any toothpaste at this stage, just wet the brush with water. If you want to use toothpaste, ensure that it is appropriate for your baby’s age. I have found that babies don’t put up too much resistance so this is the best time to create a routine of cleaning teeth twice a day. Make it fun by singing while you brush and give lots of cuddles and praise when done. Smile at your baby and tell them how wonderful they are. Your positivity will help reinforce this experience for your baby.
It seems over the top but if you can manage to floss your baby’s teeth, please do! Just like adult teeth, if we don’t floss then not all the surfaces of the teeth will be cleaned.
When your baby becomes a toddler, brushing twice a day may become a daily battle until a new established routine is accepted. Many parents have shared that their child loved teeth cleaning as a baby but totally refused it as soon as they turned 2. This is similar to how they used to love vegetables but now picks all the veggies out of their meals! At this age, your child experiences a huge number of changes in their psychological, emotional and physical. This is the time when their character is starting to take shape and it is important as parents to listen, understand, and adapt to these changes.
At two, it is hard for a child to understand that teeth cleaning is necessary to prevent dental decay, gum infections, bad breath, and life long ramifications along with social implications of having poor oral health! So it is up to us as parents to clean their teeth even if we are faced with resistance. Sometimes after a long day it seems not worth the hassle but remind yourself that you do it because you love them, to prevent them from unnecessary ill health in the future.
What I find most helpful is to clean teeth together! Make it a family affair. Even if this means I might have to clean my teeth again later that night. Toddlers are just like us, a huge motivator is the fear of missing out (FOMO). This has worked wonders for our Bodhi who is two years old. He will do anything Willow and I love doing. So when we brush our teeth, he also wants to have his teeth cleaned. He will have a go himself and turns to me and says ‘mummy help’. This is because I also help Willow clean her teeth at night. He sees this and wants the same. If my husband is home, he cleans Willow’s teeth, while I clean Bodhi’s. It then becomes a competition on who can open the widest for mummy and daddy. We always sing songs while we brush and give rounds of high fives when we are done. Sometimes a little dance at the end too!
Other things that have helped us is allowing our children to choose their own toothbrushes and toothpastes! Children respond so positively to their favourite characters and colours. Just make sure the bristles are soft and the head is small. For a while I used bamboo toothbrushes for our children, although good for the environment, our children had no ‘joy’ in using them so I succumbed to the plastic disney characters. I know that this is important for them.
You may have to try a few different toothpaste brands before your child finds the flavours that they enjoy or tolerate the best. As long as it is age appropriate on the label. With consideration to Fluoride; if the child cannot spit then use a low fluoride containing toothpaste. If they can spit out, toothpaste with 1000ppm F has been proven to be great at preventing dental decay.
Be gentle with your approach and reward good cooperation and habits. Don’t let the cries and tantrums discourage you, push through and eventually your child will adopt teeth cleaning as a daily habit. We went through the high and low with our daughter Willow, who resists almost every routine in life. With an attitude of never giving up, lots of love and patience, she is now six years old and will remind us to brush and floss her teeth if we have forgotten in our haste to get her to school. She shares her knowledge of oral health with her friends and is proud that her parents are ‘teeth savers’.
Tips and techniques:
Let your child choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste. This gives them ownership and some control, which is very empowering.
Make it a fun and positive time. Sometimes we may need to take a deep breath and arrive with the right attitude to help our little humans care for their oral health.
Toothbrushing does not have to be in front of a sink! Brush wherever your toddler likes. This can be in your lap, on a bed or a couch!
You should help them to brush and floss until you can be sure that they can clean well enough. Having even handwriting is a good indicator that they have adequate manual dexterity to brush their teeth well.
Brush in a gentle, circular or jiggly motion 45% at the gum line. Floss the sides of teeth.
Lead by example and show them how much you care for your own teeth.
Find a song to sing or play during tooth brushing time. You might like to download fun apps to make it more interactive. Brushing teeth with the wiggles is a good one.
Create a toothbrushing chart and agree on a reward system. Try to avoid having sweet treats as the reward.