We all know kids are not the most patient beings on earth, which can make getting them to brush their teeth tricky. We also know how important oral health is to your little one which is why we’ve put together a list of tips to teach your child to brush, as well as tricks we’ve found to make teeth time more fun for both of you.
Start your child brushing early
This is the most important tip. It’s never too early to teach, and you can start as soon as your baby’s first tooth erupts. Take a small piece of wet gauze or a small wash cloth and gently wipe the mouth out, paying close attention to the new tooth. Talk to your baby about what you’re doing and why. They may not understand yet, but your voice is soothing and you’re setting the stage for future success.
You can continue to brush your baby’s teeth with the gauze or wash cloth until they have four teeth in a row. This is the time you want to introduce baby’s toothbrush. There’s no need for toothpaste at this stage, you’re just keeping teeth clean and making tooth time part of your daily routine.
Toddlers and their teeth
At about age two, your now-toddler can start taking over some of the brushing time. They aren’t going to be able to do it well for several years, and that’s OK. Remember this is just the beginning of a lifetime of good habits. Now is a good time to introduce toothpaste, just a little dab is plenty, think about a half a pea size.
We suggest you take the first minute of tooth time and explain how to hold the toothbrush and proper teeth brushing technique while you’re brushing your toddler’s teeth. Then it’s their turn, they get the second minute, or longer if they want. At first it’s very important to encourage and praise their efforts, we want to make this time fun for our kids. If you notice something they’re missing, for example not getting the inside, lower teeth, tuck it away for the next tooth time and during your turn, gently remind them.
Letting your child take over
Starting at about age six, you can begin to let your little one take over tooth time with less intervention from you. Now is a good time for you to brush along with them, lead by example! Until about age eight, you child is still learning and is going to miss some teeth. Keep talking, they are still listening and learning from you.
Child brushing on their own
At about eight or nine, it’s time to let your child take over tooth time. Growing up is about learning responsibility and oral care is no different. You’re main job during this transition is helping to keep tooth time a priority and encouraging them to stay on the same schedule you’ve had for years. Your child may decide around this time that they are too old for “little kid” toothpaste and want to switch to an adult paste. Help encourage this change and provide assistance on the different kinds available and what the differences are.
Additional brushing tips for all ages
There are many, many toothbrushes out there. Toothbrush companies have done a good job at placing appropriate ages on the packaging, making it easier to pick the right toothbrush for your child. It’s very important to follow these guidelines as your toddler is much too small for a toothbrush made for an eight year old, and conversely your eight year old needs a larger toothbrush with harder bristles than your toddler.
If you decide to use a fluoride toothpaste, teaching your child how to spit out the toothpaste is vital. Encourage them to not swallow the foam, one trick you can try is placing a penny in the sink and have them aim for it. Adult toothpaste is usually a bit bitter and many children don’t like it. There are many good toothpastes on the market made especially for children, feel free to use one of these.
Starting at about age two, is the perfect time to let them start choosing their own toothbrush. First you need to decide if you want traditional toothbrushes or electric ones, then we suggest you offer your child a choice of two or three age appropriate toothbrushes to choose from. Having a sense of ownership helps children want to brush more. Once your child is a bit older, let them choose on their own (with a little help from you of course).
Tips for making tooth time more fun
Children get bored easily, and tooth time is no different. They would rather be playing with toys, watching TV, or working on their art. Tooth time can easily become a struggle if children begin associating it as a boring activity. Today there are many tools to keep your child engaged and up the fun factor.
Many popular children’s songs have been re-worded into tooth time songs. Playing these while brushing gives children something to listen to as well as allows them to know when tooth time is over. Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star and Row, Row, Row your boat are two popular songs that have been modified.
There are electric toothbrushes now that have a timer set in and play a song for the required two minutes. Children enjoy the music and knowing that when the song ends, they are done helps make two minutes less abstract for them.
Technology has come far since we were kids, and today there are computer and phone apps that help encourage brushing. Everything from digital Disney timers to apps teaching about brushing, to brushing music videos are all available. For your older children, allowing them to listen to their favorite song while brushing works as well, and a bonus is most songs are longer than two minutes so they are getting some extra cleaning in as well.
As you can see teaching your child to brush their teeth can be easy if started early. Your participation is vital in your child seeing this as a fun, engaging part of their day. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s oral health, please ask your dental provider at the next scheduled exam, or call them if you need a quicker answer.