One of the most common questions I get from parents is, “How do I get my child to brush their teeth?” to which I respond, “How do you get your child to eat their vegetables?” Parenting is wrought with these daily challenges and as you get to know your child more and more, you will learn that what works to motivate one child, may not appeal to another.
Some strategies are universal, however. Let’s start with the basics about brushing teeth:
You must start to brush your child’s teeth from the moment their teeth first erupt into their mouth. At that point, wiping their teeth with a cloth is no longer sufficient, and something with bristles must be used; whether it be a finger brush or a traditional brush with a handle - whatever works for you.
Also, you must use fluoridated toothpaste starting from day one. As fluoride is no longer added to the water supply in Calgary, children are now at a higher risk of developing cavities. Low-dose twice daily topical fluoride exposure in the form of toothpaste is effective in reducing your child’s risk of needing extensive dental treatment in the future. For children under the age of three, toothpaste the size of a grain of rice should be applied to the brush and for children over the age of three, a pea-sized amount of toothpaste is appropriate. If your child swallows some toothpaste, it’s not a bad thing, as you are using such a little amount to start with.
Not until a child can cut their own meat or tie their own shoes is their manual dexterity developed enough that they can brush their teeth completely unassisted. For every child, that age is different, but up until that point it is advised that you, the parent, dispense the correct amount of fluoridated toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush. Positioning of your child when you are brushing their teeth is critical, and it is probably best demonstrated in the paediatric dentist’s office but suffice it to say, your child’s head should be supported. That way, you can see all the surfaces of the teeth to be brushed and all the areas in between the teeth that should be flossed.
All too often I see the consequences of children brushing their teeth unsupervised (I would be happy if parents brush their children’s teeth until they drop them off for their first semester of university). Realistically, I would suggest that you do it until your child has 1. expressed an interest in brushing their own teeth and 2. proven that they can do it as well as you can.
It is important to explain to your children the consequences of not brushing their teeth and the reason for doing it. With a better understanding of the why, you can engage them by showing them how. Just like losing weight requires commitment and repetition of good habits, oral hygiene must become part of their daily routine. Maybe there’s no bedtime story until everyone’s teeth are brushed and flossed. Children, like adults, thrive in an environment when they know what is expected of them, in which case when twice daily oral hygiene is anticipated, they are less likely to resist doing it.
Any task is easier to get done when it’s fun, so make a song or a rap about it (lots of inspiration can be found on YouTube) and do a little dance. Teeth are easier to brush when everyone is smiling!
Advice specific to your children’s needs can be sought from your local paediatric dentist and remember that all children should be seen by the dentist before the age of one! When your children appreciate their teeth early on, they will be more engaged in keeping them healthy for a lifetime!
Dr. Farida Saher is a double Board Certified Paediatric Dentist, and the owner of Dental Care for Children in Southport: 403-278-8000 and Sunridge: 403-457-3311. She has practiced in Calgary for almost 10 years, and is excited to meet you and your family in person! For more information, visit dentalcareforchildren.ca.
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