It’s true what they say. A healthy smile and good oral hygiene habits start early. As parents we try our best when it comes to teaching our children what it takes to have optimal dental health. This is not to say that it doesn’t come with its challenges. Many toddlers hate having their teeth brushed. At that age they don’t really understand why they need to have their teeth brushed at all, let alone twice a day! So what’s a parent to do?
Here we rounded up some advice that may help instill a healthy brushing habit for your toddler that will last well into their adult years.
- “When should I bring my child in for their first dental check-up?” Many parents are surprised when they hear the answer is as soon as the baby teeth erupt or by the child’s first birthday. Many feel it’s just too early. But the sooner your child gets comfortable at the dentist the easier future dental appointments will go. It also gives us a chance to make sure development of the child’s dentition is proceeding normally and spend some time with mom and dad reviewing diet and what they should be doing for their baby’s teeth on a daily basis. Generally, it’s a good idea to have your child witness your own dental check-up. It eases fears and gives them an opportunity to understand what they can expect from their own appointment.
- “What can I do at home to help my child adjust to tooth brushing?” To help with the awkward feeling of having a toothbrush in their mouths and to be sure that you are being thorough, start by gently wiping their gums with clean gauze or a clean gentle child’s terrycloth washcloth when they’re just a few days old. This way, even if they close their lips around your finger you can simply feel what you are doing even if you can’t see inside their mouths. This will set the stage for brushing with a toothbrush later on. When teeth actually start coming in be sure to wipe the front and backs of all the teeth as well as the gums behind them where the future baby teeth will erupt. This will also help teething go easier for your child. Depending upon a child’s dexterity and willingness, graduating to a tooth brush may require a parent to brush their child’s teeth to bridge that gap from washcloth to toothbrush. Usually by age 3, a child has the ability to hold a toothbrush and to brush the back molars as well as the front teeth. It requires parental supervision though, and if you have doubts that they are being thorough you should make sure that at least one of the daily brushings are done by mom or dad.
- “What is the best way to teach my child how to brush their teeth?” Children learn by doing, especially if they see a grown-up do it first. Take the time to have them sit or stand at the sink with you practicing with their own toothbrush. Another option is to have them practice tooth brushing with their stuffed animals or dolls. Be sure to praise them on doing a good job even if it’s practice on their teddy bear. The ADA recommends that children begin brushing with fluoride toothpaste using a pea-size or smaller amount after the age of 3. So before 3 years of age brushing with water will work just fine. Teach them to rinse and spit afterwards without swallowing.
- “What’s the best way to help them reach all their teeth?” Until your child masters the act of brushing, you may have to finish the job for them. Now this may be met with some resistance. And from your child’s point of view, it’s pretty uncomfortable and not much fun to have someone put something in their mouths that doesn’t taste great.
But if at all possible try making it a game. Have your child hum their favorite song while you finish brushing their teeth. Another trick might be to bring in a hand-held puppet to perform the “finishing up game.” Say “Polly the puppet will finish brushing your teeth and then you can brush Polly’s teeth after you finish.” Need another little trick? Try having your child brush your teeth as you brush your child’s teeth. It creates a diversion as they try to mimic your tooth brushing moves. If you make the act of brushing a game; it can only help when it comes time for their solo performance.
Overall the point is to let your child feel as if they’re in control. Things like letting them use two toothbrushes; one in each hand, or even letting them brush Mommy’s or Daddy’s teeth for practice can distract them long enough to get the job done. Relinquishing just a little bit of control can go a long way in creating habits that stick for life.
As an aside, once baby teeth start erupting mom or dad should introduce flossing. It is not immediately necessary to worry about flossing each and every tooth like we want adults to do, even just one tooth per arch will do for now. The point is to get the child used to the idea of flossing and brushing together and condition them to just accept without question that at bedtime we read a book, brush our teeth and use a stringy thing. This is way easier than trying to get a rebellious teenager to start flossing when they never have. And it is quite possible that years later, say, in college when you are not around your child will just not know why they have a warm, safe and comforting feeling when they are flossing (unconsciously bringing them back to their infancy, safe at nighttime with mom or dad).
At Dr. Mark W Langberg’s Cosmetic and General Dentistry, we always stay a step ahead of dental care practices for both adults and children. Our patients’ oral health and safety are always our number one priority and we offer a wide range of family and cosmetic dentistry treatment. We have an amazing, highly trained staff and a comfortable, modern, relaxed, non-judgmental environment that will keep the smiles of the entire family healthy and happy! Call our office at 248-356-8790 and discover the difference a great dentist can make!
Until Next Time,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790