Low Stress Path to Pearly Whites
It’s no problem to get our kids to brush their teeth, right?
I don’t know about you, but this was not my experience with my daughter. She didn’t like having me poke around in her mouth. I learned early on that forcing the issue only led to tears and resistance. I started coming up with ways to make teeth brushing fun, and she gradually came around so that brushing her teeth is now a regular habit that doesn’t involve tears or a power struggle.
We all know how important it is to take care of our teeth. I grew up regularly getting cavities. I’m not sure if this was because of poor dental hygiene, or just something I was blessed with genetically. Likely a bit of both, but whatever the case, it has motivated me to want to work on this with my daughter and prevent these issues as much as possible. Some of my efforts worked better than others, and of course every child is different. We’re also still working on it, but I’d like to share some strategies with you.
Three Strategies for Success
1. Model Good Teeth Hygiene
First, I modeled good teeth hygiene for her. She is with me almost all day every day, so she saw me brushing my teeth from an early age, and generally kids are interested in whatever their parents are doing. When she showed interest in my electric toothbrush, I got her one of her own. Whatever will make the experience more appealing without negative side effects is a plus in my book.
2. Find a Fun Toothbrush
Luckily there are endless possibilities for fun toothbrushes for kids and babies. Find one or two with characters or designs that your child likes. Bring them to the store with you and let them pick out their own. This will give them a feeling of ownership and control in the process. The American Dental Association recommends switching their toothbrush out every 3-4 months, or sooner if it starts looking worn down.
3. Decide on a Good Toothpaste
Decide whether you want toothpaste with or without fluoride.
If your drinking water has fluoride in it, your toothpaste may not need it as well. If your water doesn’t have fluoride, you may want to use toothpaste with fluoride, or give your child a fluoride supplement (after 6 months of age). You can get more information about these options and personalized recommendations from your child’s dentist.
Speaking of which, your child should start visiting a dentist (and brushing) as soon as they start getting teeth, and definitely by their first birthday. This will get them started on a path of good dental habits early. The dentist will also be able to look for any early signs of problems, answer any questions you have and provide advice and tips. My daughter just had her second dental visit and it went well. They tried a cleaning, but she wasn’t interested, so we skipped that and just did an exam and fluoride treatment.
This ties into another method I feel works well. Don’t put too much pressure on your child to get it right or done perfectly every single time. Pushing can create resistance and an aversion to brushing at all. It seems to yield much more success to make teeth brushing a fun, positive activity. When they do it correctly, praise them effusively. When they don’t, praise their efforts and talk about how to do it next time.
That brings us to some specifics on how they should be brushing their teeth properly.
"Two minutes twice a day is the goal, but if you can’t achieve this immediately, just keep working on it. You’ll get there!"
For children under 3 years old, you should use a small smear of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. For children 3-6 years old, use a pea-sized amount. Just like the fun toothbrushes that are available, there are lots of fun and tasty toothpaste options that will make it more likely for your kiddo to enjoy it.
Make sure your child is brushing thoroughly – front, back, top and bottom. One good way to achieve this, especially early on, is to let them ‘brush’ for a little bit, then you finish up to make sure each tooth is getting a swipe. Another creative method is to let your child brush your teeth a little bit, and then it’s your turn to brush theirs. You may not feel like you’ve gotten them to brush thoroughly every single time, but practice makes perfect and I’ve learned that for us, she can tell if I’m feeling tension over this and that leads to a negative experience. (Note: Dentists recommend that parents help or watch over their kids' brushing until around age 8.)
Make it Fun
One thing that has probably helped the most is introducing her to dental hygiene through fun kids’ books and songs about brushing your teeth, and episodes of her favorite cartoons with the characters visiting the dentist or brushing their teeth. All of these have helped her become familiar with the ideas and processes, and excited about doing them herself. We regularly sing teeth brushing songs while she’s brushing her teeth, and they have helped her get into it when she didn’t originally want to do it.
Now, at 2-1/2 years old, I set her toothbrush with toothpaste on it out with a small cup of water and she climbs up on her step-stool and completes the process all on her own.
"It’s a wonderful, encouraging sight to see after early struggles and worrying about whether I’d get her to brush consistently."
Providing them with a healthy diet of water, dairy, protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts and limiting sweets will go a long way in strengthening their teeth as well. If you’re experiencing struggles in this area, hang in there! It should continue to improve with time and practice. I hope some of these ideas will help you and your children achieve those strong, pearly whites!
My name is Chelsea Heath and I live in the Portland, Oregon area. I am married to my husband of 12 years, Nate, and we have a bubbly, sweet, funny 2-1/2 year old daughter named Isla. I love reading, writing, photography, nature and comedy. Being a mom has been harder than I imagined, but infinitely rewarding.