As a trained dentist, I have always encouraged our patients and their families to brush their teeth at least twice daily. In theory this is a great idea, but in practice we know that’s not always the case. Often this is easier said than done. I didn't realize this until I became a mother! Brushing kids’ teeth is not an easy task, but after raising three children, I have gathered my thoughts below on the challenges and solutions I am faced with daily brushing.
Trying to brush your child’s teeth. It can be difficult to brush your child’s teeth correctly, as it’s not an intuitive movement for us. But I have found that creating a routine helps! Brush upper right, then upper left; lower left, then lower right. Don’t forget to brush three sides of the teeth – the inner, outer, and biting surfaces (make sure to move their cheek out of the way!)
Screaming toddlers who hate brushing their teeth. We’ve all been there! I like to sit on the floor, open my legs in the shape of a V and let me child lay down with his head on my lap. The louder the cry, the better the view for me to see in his mouth! Again, brush with a routine (see above). After doing this a few times, your child will notice that nothing hurts and will accept the fact they need to brush their teeth.
Independent brushers! I recommend that parents brush the child’s teeth until he/she is able to tie their shoe laces, as it takes a sophisticated level of dexterity. To allow for independence, maybe allow your child to brush his/her teeth alone in the morning and then you get in there in the evening to help get the day’s plaque off. Don’t forget to floss!
When you can't reach all the surfaces of the teeth, especially the cheek side. Don't ask your child to open his/her mouth, but rather brush their cheek side teeth when their mouths are closed. When they open their mouths, cheeks close in on the teeth, making it harder for a toothbrush to get in there.
When my child swallows toothpaste. When the children are not trained yet to spit the toothpaste I recommend fluoride free toothpaste. I can always use a smear sized toothpaste and remove excess with a washcloth for kids who are a higher risk of getting cavities.
My child has sensory issues and can't tolerate a toothbrush inside his/her mouth. As a parent of a child with special needs and sensory integration issues, I have had a lot of practice in trial and error. The things that work for me include:
- Slowly introduce teeth brushing from birth. Our son is 17 and still doesn't like the tooth brush inside his mouth.
- Try a visual timer, that way your child can see the countdown.
- If you like to use electric toothbrushes, use it to massage the outside of his/her lips before introducing it inside of their mouth. Personally, I like to use electric toothbrushes because it’s more effective in a shorter amount of time than a manual toothbrush.
- Make the commitment to brush your child's teeth every night. If that's impossible, try controlling his/her diet more aggressively, ie no fruit juice, no snacking, etc.
Dental visits for all children, even those who resist. While brushing can be a struggle, it’s important to be consistent in visiting the dentist every six months. This is an opportunity for your child to get a professional cleaning, fluoride varnish, x-rays (if needed), and family education about at-home oral care.
Should we floss? Definitely, nothing can clean between the teeth other than the floss! I give my kids floss every night, and they sit and read their bedtime stories while flossing.