The 20 Steps to Brush Your Child’s Teeth
Written by: Dr. AnnaKate Tatum
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. While the focus is on children’s teeth, the burden of a child’s oral care falls on the parents.
If you have a toddler or small child at home, this routine is all too familiar. For parents, brushing and flossing is often times the most dreaded part of a child’s daily routine. It should come as no surprise that only 28% of American parents would give their kids an “A” grade for oral health. Nearly 9/10 parents say their children aren’t brushing as well as they could be. Oral hygiene habits, rather than genetics or children’s diets, are most important factors in children’s overall oral health.
The usual routine at our house is the following 20 steps to brush teeth:
- Announce: “It’s time to brush your teeth!”
- Wait for the crying to stop.
- Explain that brushing your teeth is not a punishment.
- Explain that brushing is not a new concept.
- Explain that, yes, brushing will happen every night and every morning.
- Console your toddler.
- Announce: “It’s still time to brush your teeth!”
- Let your toddler know, “we don’t call names in this house.”
- Tell your toddler: “It’s time to go to the bathroom.”
- Watch your toddler move at a snail’s pace.
- Wait for the crying to stop, again.
- Pick up your toddler.
- Walk your toddler into the bathroom.
- Put the toothpaste on your toddler’s toothbrush. (Obviously, you do it the wrong way in their opinion).
- Console your toddler while he/she cries about the toothpaste.
- Explain that the toothpaste is the same tonight as it always is.
- Watch your toddler make faces in the bathroom mirror.
- Announce: “It’s still time to brush your teeth.” (This time use your most stern voice).
- Wait while your toddler plays in the water in the sink.
- Finally, begin brushing your toddler’s teeth.
Oral habits are established early in a child’s life. It is the parent’s responsibility to set the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health for their children. Here are some reasons it’s important to protect baby teeth and some helpful ways to help your child establish a healthy mouth.
Why is it important to keep baby teeth healthy?
Baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth so it’s not a big deal if they have decay and fall out, right? WRONG! Baby teeth are very important in the development of proper eating and speaking patterns. In addition to these reasons, baby teeth also help establish good self-esteem by providing children a beautiful smile. Baby teeth are important space holders for permanent teeth. If baby teeth are lost early or removed by the dentist because of decay, permanent teeth may come in crooked or not have enough space to erupt into the mouth at all! Lastly, decay in baby teeth compromises the permanent teeth. Where there’s decay, there’s active bacteria feeding on teeth structures. If bacteria is attacking baby teeth, it’s also attacking permanent teeth. Thus, to have strong, healthy permanent teeth, we need healthy baby teeth as well.
How can I help my child establish a healthy mouth?
A proper routine of brushing and flossing needs to be established as soon as the first tooth appears in the mouth or around age 6 months. Where there are no teeth, gums should be wiped with a soft, clean cloth or infant toothbrush after feedings. Brushing morning and night and flossing once a day is usually adequate to keep the mouth healthy at this stage.
Between 6 months and 1 year of age, every child should see the dentist for his/her first checkup. This is another way to establish a healthy routine of good dental care in your child’s life.
Children should not be put to bed with anything besides water. Bottle rot or nursing mouth syndrome are the terms given to rampant decay due to putting children to bed with milk, juice, or formula, which all contain sugar. Sugar sits on the teeth and promotes decay throughout the sleeping period if children are put to bed with a bottle or sippy cup filled with something other than water.
Sugary, sticky foods and sodas should be consumed in moderation. Drinking or eating sugary foods in between meals creates an environment where bacteria can thrive. Children should limit the amount of junk food they eat and also choose nutritious snacks between meals. If chewing gum between meals, always choose sugar free gum.
Parents can help eliminate the transfer of bacteria to a child by not engaging in saliva-transferring behaviors such as sharing utensils, toothbrushes, and beverages, or licking pacifiers to clean them before giving them to a child.
Oral care should never be viewed as a punishment or in a negative light. Threats such as, “you’d better brush or the dentist will pull all your teeth out,” or “the dentist is going to give you a shot and it’s going to hurt,” are detrimental in establishing a healthy view of oral hygiene and visits to the dentist. Dental checkups and daily home care should both be encouraged in a positive manner. Some positive examples are, “this is the dentist, he/she makes sure your teeth are strong and healthy” and “we brush every night to clean our mouths and get rid of cavity bugs.”
Early habits of good oral hygiene are vital for a lifetime of proper oral health. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Begin healthy habits this month that will benefit your child and his/her oral health for a lifetime.