We all know how important brushing our teeth is – when we don’t, we face a buildup of plaque, which causes tooth decay, gum disease, and even loss. But while most adults know we should be brushing thoroughly twice a day for two minutes, getting young children involved can prove trickier. here are tips on getting children to brush properly:
1. Start early
The key to making brushing a stress-free habit is introducing brushing habits from a very early age. Even babies can be introduced to the sensation of having something in their mouth – practice gently rubbing a (clean) finger over their gums a couple of times a day. That way, they won’t find a toothbrush uncomfortable. My son is nine months old and has a few milk teeth, so I put a tiny amount of toothpaste on some gauze on my finger, before wiping it on his teeth twice a day. Getting a small amount of fluoride onto the teeth is crucial – it prevents and controls tooth decay.
2. Do it with them
If your children are a bit older, get them interested in brushing by doing it with them. Children are naturally inquisitive and want to be like their parents. Let them start brushing when you are (chances are, they’ll be asking, ‘Mummy/Daddy, what are you doing?’ anyway). Stand in front of a mirror with them so they can see what you/they are doing, and brush your teeth first, followed by theirs. Make sure you brush (or at least supervise) until they’re around seven years old.
3. Give them options
Make brushing fun and you’ve won half the battle. Let them pick their toothbrush in the supermarket – a small-headed brightly-colored superhero design will make brushing much more appealing (you can buy fun toothbrush holders that suction onto the bathroom mirror, too). If they’re past the age of five and still hate brushing, it becomes slightly trickier because habits have already been established. Try a connected toothbrush with an app or game associated (there are plenty online). Colorful, vibrating brushes with flashing lights will make the ritual much more exciting if they’re reluctant to brush.
4. Stick to manual
If a vibrating toothbrush is what it takes to get them brushing and they find it fun, then go for it. But some electric toothbrushes can prove too tickly for young children, meaning they avoid using them. An electric brush doesn’t necessarily mean a better job either – because it feels like it’s cleaning more thoroughly, it’s easy to miss spots or cut brushing time. The important thing is that children are brushing twice a day, covering every surface of each tooth (outside and inside). From primary school age, we should be getting children to brush for close to two minutes (but if they’ve only got a few teeth, it won’t take as long).
5. Include their ‘friends’
When I meet children who aren’t responsive to brushing, my trick is to encourage them to brush their favorite toy’s teeth. “Start each morning by saying, ‘OK, let’s brush Teddy’s teeth’ – while they’re brushing the toy’s ‘teeth’, you can start doing theirs. Teach them how to spit too – it’s a learned process, and invariably they’ll accidentally swallow some toothpaste along the way (gently remind them not to ingest it). A simple distraction works well, and before long they’ll be happy to brush solo.
6. Avoid strong flavors
They might make your mouth feel minty-fresh, but strong peppermint or menthol flavors aren’t a great idea for children. Try and avoid strong flavors for children – they won’t like the ‘burning’ sensation and might avoid brushing as a result. I don’t recommend fruit-flavored toothpaste either – they get children used to sugary-tasting things, and it encourages them to swallow (it’s not a sweet, remember). If it’s the only way they’ll comply, do it, but mild minty ones are a better option. Either way, below the age of three, they just need a tiny smear – don’t go overboard.
7. …and know that fluoride is not the enemy
Plenty of non-fluoride toothpastes are available, but is fluoride really dangerous? As a dentist, I think it would be silly to use a non-fluoride toothpaste when we know how much it benefits our teeth (fluoride protects them, and neutralizes the effects of sugary acids). Yes, there are dangers from swallowing too much fluoride, but that comes down to incorrect usage (you’d have to ingest a lot to cause problems). I don’t preach to patients about what they do, but my recommendation is to use a fluoride-based toothpaste. It’s likely to save you/your children a lot of bother later down the line.
8. Leave out the mouthwash
With brushing proving tricky enough, parents will be relieved to learn that mouthwash can be struck off the to-do list. “I don’t recommend mouthwashes at all – even for adults (unless it’s for a specific problem, like being predisposed to sensitivity). Everyday ones aren’t essential, and they can wash off the fluoride the toothpaste has just put on. If you still want to use it, try using mouthwash at a different time to brushing – brush in the morning and at night, and use the mouthwash at lunchtime, for example. But remember, it’s not an alternative to brushing.
9. Introduce rewards
In dentistry, children enjoy visits because we give them stickers every time we see them. If you’re struggling to make regular brushing stick with your kids, offer them a star each time they brush well for two minutes – five stars might mean a treat on the weekend. It’s simple, but effective – and if they have siblings, their competitive spirit might just kick in, too….
10. Get flossing!
Taken control of the brushing? flossing is equally important, and the good news is that it takes just seconds. And like brushing, the earlier they start, the better. As soon as there’s contact between teeth, start flossing to remove food and plaque from between teeth. You’ll have to do it for them at first, but it mustn’t become an alien concept. Because it looks ‘grownup’ they’ll enjoy getting stuck in, and you can buy children’s floss too (flavors are less important than with toothpaste, as it’s not being swilled around the mouth).
We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us today to answer all of your questions so get an appointment.