I feel like I have just won the lottery when I emerge from the dentist’s office, four kids in tow, and zero cavities on the charts. That is approximately 96 teeth in all (we are somewhere between full adult sets and still working on primary sets). And between those teeth, those children, and all of those years of teeth brushing I realized that totals more than 35,000 times the kids have brushed their teeth (hopefully). I should have bought stock in Colgate. But how is it that something as necessary and basic (and really not time consuming) as brushing teeth can be such a challenge for parents and kids?
Does My Baby Need a Toothbrush?
Yes – but not toothpaste (that can wait until age 2). No one expects a 9-month-old to scrub and rinse effectively, but starting dental care early is essential. The first toothbrush your baby can actually use is a wet washcloth – use it to gently rub your baby’s teeth and gums. I would get a wet, cold washcloth and gently swipe my child’s teeth and gums, then let her take over for a few minutes. If you want something more than a washcloth – especially if your child gets lots of teeth early on – there are a few products designed for the younger crowd.
Finger toothbrush – You place the finger toothbrush (usually made of silicone) over your finger tip and use it to gently massage your baby’s gums and tiny teeth. It can help promote healthy teeth, but I never found it more helpful than a wet washcloth. Also watch out for those biting babies – sticking your finger in a teething child’s mouth isn’t always a safe bet.
Baby brushes – By the time my first child turned 1 she had several teeth and wanted to brush her teeth by herself. A sturdy, larger brush like this one can give your baby the benefits of tooth brushing and is easier for her to grasp. Just watch teething babies who like to chew, chew, chew – those bristles are not made to withstand that much gnawing.
How Can I Teach My Toddler to Brush His Teeth?
For the most part, toddlers don’t like being told how to do anything, but there are a few easy ways to let them convince themselves of how to take care of their teeth.
Brush your teeth in front of them. When my kids were much younger I always made it a point to brush my teeth with the bathroom door open and the kids at my heels. Setting a good example is rarely a bad thing.
Don’t threaten him with the terrors of tooth decay. While the scare tactic of “If you don’t brush your teeth will rot and the dentist will have to pull them” might get him to run to the bathroom and brush his teeth, it also might set him up for a fear of the dentist’s chair.
Use a behavior chart. Tooth brushing is just one of those things that needs to develop into a habit, and habits are created over time through consistent behaviors. This doesn’t mean we as parents need to consistently remind our kids to brush their teeth. Instead, use a chart like the ones below to get your child into the habit.
Dental Care for Kids
Healthy teeth and gums require more than good brushing. Here are a few other tips I learned along the way that have saved time, energy, and mouth pain for my kids.
- Don’t put sugary drinks in bottles and sippy cups. These can promote early tooth decay.
- Take your child for her first visit to the dentist when she has her first few teeth, but find a dentist who is gentle and patient.
- Get your child hand held flossing picks. They are much easier for kids to use than wrapping dental floss around their fingers, and they are just as effective.
- Talk with your kids about the effects of sticky, sweet foods on their teeth, and the importance of brushing right after those special treats.
- Give your child some choices. This starts when you let them pick their own toothbrush and paste, and moves right through to that first orthodontist appointment. We have one child (so far…) who will benefit from braces, but we are letting him choose when he is ready for that step. He is the one who will have to change some of his eating habits to accommodate the braces, brush even more diligently than before, and put up with the orthodontist visits and the apparatus in his mouth. I guess I just have to put up with the bill!