Having trouble brushing your child’s teeth? Tell me about it. PART I
It’s very much the norm for a child to refuse brushing and flossing. Some kids are easier than others, but really, kids typically don’t burst into joyous celebration when its time to brush as terrible twos are in full swing. I routinely hear the stories of the struggling parents who have to wrestle their child to get them brushed on a daily basis. Before I had children of my own it was always so easy for me to give parents the shpeel about the “current guidelines” and how they should just keep trying and not give up. My perception of daily routines got a reality check when I had my own kids. So I’d like to spend the next couple of posts and share with you oral hygiene essentials as a parent first, then a dentist.
The sooner you start, the smoother it’ll be
The day I had my first daughter, I started wiping her gums with a wet wash cloth after every feeding. Yes, there are lots of fancy tools for brushing the gums of an infant, but at 2am, you may not find that elmo finger cot brush, but alway have a wash cloth handy. We made sure that the concept of cleaning her mouth is as inherent to her as diaper changes. Though her natural reflex would be to suck on my cloth covered finger, she actually really came to enjoy the soft ticklish sensation on her gums. Other than getting her used to the routine of cleaning her mouth, disrupting the bacteria on her gums after every feeding has been shown to be very helpful in preventing cavities when teeth come in. You don’t need to use toothpaste until they have teeth.
Work through the Testing Twos
Once our daughter got a little older and demanded more independence she decided that she didnt want to have her teeth brushed by us anymore. She would cry and scream her lungs off every time I would get close to her with a toothbrush. Either she would brush her self, or no one would be brushing. The “Testing Twos” wont spare the brushing routines. The key for us was to keep the brushing routine as part of her night time schedule; it just took two of us to brush her properly with a knee to knee position. I’ll try to get an image of a child being brushed in this position. Despite the protecting, she would get really good brushing every night. I know it sounds scary and maybe even cruel but after a couple of weeks, she realize that I was going to brush her teeth no matter what. Being a sharp cookie, she would protest with her mouth wide open so we can do our thing, and she would quiet down almost instantly once we were done. The key was I kept my cool despite her protesting. A smile on my face, singing the ABC’s, and a big “hoooray, you did it” was our very effective approach.
By the time we overcame the kinks of Testing Twos, my wife and I started coming up with creative ways of making this experience fun for her. We would tap into her cute, wild imagination. She loved helping us look for sugar bugs in her mouth. Lots “awes” and “ooohs” as we brushed and flossed her front and back teeth. When she was learning colors we would look for different color sugar bugs and when she was into numbers we would count the number of sugar bug. It sounds simple and silly but its silly things like this that gets them excited about an otherwise boring chore. I would also change her toothbrush every 2-3 months to keep her excited. In fact, we would make a ritual out of taking her shopping to choose her favorite character decorated toothbrush. During our trips to Target, instead of having to fight about how she can’t have the overpriced fancy toys on the shelves, she was excited about picking out a new toothbrush instead.
As she’s maturing and getting ready for kindergarten, she really gets the whole oral hygiene thing. She enjoys brushing and flossing and when she’s at a sleep over with the grandparents, she makes sure they don’t forget to brush her. Around her friends, she is very proud of not having any cavities and knowing lots about sugar bugs and taking care of her teeth.
I hear the challenges of brushing kids, and also get lots of great and amazing advice from parents on a daily basis. If your child is giving you a hard time, remember you’re not alone, and try some of the suggestions here. Also, ask around and see what other parents are doing. Remember the fact is if you’re inconsistent, nervous and intense, brushing will always remain an annoying chore for your growing child. Make it fun. They’re smile will need to take them to places yet to be discovered. It’s worth it.
In Part II, we’ll explore this challenge and make suggestions for helping older kids stay on top of their oral hygiene.
Dr J is a board certified pediatric dentist, serving his hometown in San Diego at one the most respected specialty practices, Scripps Pediatric Dentistry. He is an honors graduate of UC Berkeley, and UCLA School of Dentistry. His specialty training was completed as Chief Resident at UNC, one of only 2 three year pediatric programs in the US. He is an associate professor at UCLA in pediatric dentistry and on staff at Rady Children’s Hospital. He is also a proud father to two girls.