Help with Brushing Toddler Teeth

by Melanie

Brushing your toddler’s teeth is important but it is often a problem for some parents. Cathy emailed me the other day after reading Caring for Teeth. Cathy has three children, ages 1, 4 and 9. Her 4 year old hates to brush his teeth. She’s not only worried about him getting cavities; she’s worried her 1 year old will pick up the “I hate brushing my teeth” slogan. Cathy asked what she can do to get her toddler to brush teeth with out a battle. She also asked how to prepare her children for a trip to the dentist; only her oldest has seen a dentist.

Proper care of teeth is important. Children need to be in the habit of brushing their teeth at least twice a day to prevent cavities. Prevention is an important step and far less expensive that undoing the damage caused by failure to brush. Learning how to care for their baby teeth should begin early.

There are a couple things to do to help make your toddler more willing to brush his teeth. The first thing I would do is take him to the store and let him pick out a toothbrush. There are toothbrushes made for children in a variety of colors, many with characters like Barney, Strawberry Shortcake and Spiderman. Use the right size toothbrush so it fits in mouth. An adult size toothbrush will most likely be too big and uncomfortable. Let your child pick out toothpaste. The simple fact that Spiderman or Scooby Doo is on the toothpaste container may make teeth brushing more pleasurable. Many toothpaste companies make toothpaste just for children in different flavors such as fruit or bubblegum flavored. You do not need toothpaste for the 1 year old but pick up a small baby toothbrush.

Your toddler should be brushing his teeth twice a day. In our house we started the pajama rule. When pajamas are put on or taken off it’s time to brush teeth. You want it to be part of a routine and not a stand alone event. This will help it become a habit. Start this with your four year old and one year old.

For your four year old you might have to use a reward system. Right now brushing teeth is a negative event so you want to make it a positive one. Use a calendar or chart and a bunch of stickers. Each time your toddler brushes at brush time, without a battle reward with a sticker. After a specified number of stickers are collected, let him trade them in for a small token gift. In the beginning you will probably want to make sure he reaches the “prize level” quickly, say after 15 or 20 stickers. Use inexpensive toy cars, new crayons, coloring books, bubbles, trip to playground and so on as the trade in prizes. As he gets into the habit you can stretch it out into more stickers to redeem.

Cathy did not mention if her oldest gave her trouble with brushing teeth. I feel that most nine year olds are old enough to understand that he/she has to brush teeth twice a day to prevent both cavities and bad breath. That is usually enough to motivate most to brush teeth. If needed, you can try the reward system only on a higher level (which is more stickers to reach reward).

Once your children are in the habit of brushing their teeth you can work more on the technique and also start flossing. A dentist can help with proper techniques for both.

I will talk about how to prepare for a visit to the dentist in next article.

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