Much like getting kids to go to sleep, wear shoes or have a bath, encouraging your kids to brush their teeth frequently and properly is one of those parenting tasks that isn’t always easy. However, with some patience, determination and creativity (much like with everything else parenting related), you can avoid lots of toothbrushing stress, and still ensure your kid is doing a decent brushing job. Encouraging good dental habits early in the game is not only great for your child’s teeth, but could also save you a lot of time, frustration and money in the dentist’s chair.
When to start brushing
Even if they’re not yet eating solids, you should start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as their first tooth appears.
How to brush
The easiest way to brush a baby’s teeth is to sit them on your knee, with their head resting against your chest.
Clean your baby’s teeth with a soft damp cloth, or a little soft toothbrush moistened with water and a drop of baby-friendly toothpaste (if you live in a place where there’s lots of fluoride in the water, you might not need toothpaste, but check with your dentist to be sure). Don’t worry if your little one ingests some of the toothpaste as such a small quantity won’t cause any harm. It’s also recommended to clean your baby’s gums with a soft damp cloth after feeding.
Whatever their age, children will need to brush twice a day.
Toddlers up to three years still need a drop of toothpaste, and beyond that, a pea-sized amount. Ensure that you’re using age-appropriate toothpaste (you’ll see the age range on the packaging).
When helping a toddler brush their teeth, stand behind them and tilt their head backwards. Brush all their teeth gently in small circles, ensuring you’ve reached all the surfaces, especially on their molars. Ask them to spit out their toothpaste afterwards. They don’t need to rinse as this will wash away the fluoride from the toothpaste, which protects their teeth.
Eventually your child will want to start brushing their own teeth but try to supervise where possible to check they’re not licking the toothpaste from the tube (I know this from my own toddler), or not brushing all their teeth. Help them until you’re sure they are brushing thoroughly. This might be around the ages of eight to 10, but keep in mind that all kids are different and tend to go at their own pace.
Children from around five might enjoy an electric toothbrush, which can make brushing easier. Let the brush do the work but ensure that all teeth surfaces have been reached.
Tricks to make brushing a bit easier
Set a timer: Keep things exciting with a timer or hourglass to ensure they brush for two minutes.
Give them control: Let your toddler choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste flavor to give them a sense of responsibility and make it more fun.
Offer some entertainment: Put on some music, dance for your child or be silly to make it more enjoyable for them. The less it feels like a “chore”, the more your child might enjoy it.
Lead by example: Show your kids that you also brush your teeth and floss so that they can mimic or be inspired by your good habits. You could also brush your teeth with them.
Create a rewards chart: Set up a star chart and praise them for their good habits and consistent brushing.
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