Brush your teeth every day, twice a day, for ideal oral hygiene. While this advice may be easy for adults, how do you get your kids to cooperate?
Brushing teeth with children can often resort to power struggles. I’m often at a loss with how to make this routine the least stressful in order to divert aversion. My goal is to make the experience as pleasant as possible in order for my children to have positive associations with teeth brushing.
I’m not going to lie. There are times when the power struggle has been so strong that I resorted to force out of sheer desperation. I’ve been told by dental hygienists to use whatever tactic necessary, including holding their hands down, to get the job done. However, I’m fearful if I force the experience, they will develop a negative association when they are adults. While there have been times that I’ve held my daughter’s hands while she has a hissy fit, it isn’t my preferred way. As a result, I’m left with trying to find creative solutions to make brushing teeth the most pain free as possible.
When my daughter was younger, it was easier to sing songs and use distraction techniques. Sometimes, I’ve counted backwards or come up with silly ideas like “brushing the sparkles off her teeth.” We’ve talked about sugar bugs and what happens if we don’t brush properly. I’ve even pointed out children with silver teeth to show her the consequences of not brushing properly.
I’ve found that that these strategies have worked well for different ages or seasons of time. I have to constantly reinvent myself in order to keep up with my aging child. She is now nearing 6 years old and I’m having to change my approach, yet again.
The other night, I came up with a new strategy for brushing teeth:
I told Ella if she can brush her teeth before the timer beeps, she can get 5 minutes to play before bedtime. I set the oven timer for 3 minutes, giving myself enough time to brush her teeth plus a buffer so she’d be successful, and then pretended to be in a rush to brush her teeth. I brushed for over 2 minutes and still had 11 seconds to spare! It seemed to work. Hopefully I can rely on this tactic to avoid future teeth brushing struggles.
Below are a few other strategies to use to brush your teeth:
Brushing Teeth Timer: a sand hourglass with a 2 minute timer
Songs: the teeth brushing song from Raffi
Education: a kid friendly video on why we brush our teeth
Below are some basic tips and rules for teeth brushing I thought were necessary to share:
- As soon as your baby has their first tooth appear, you should start brushing. Even before the teeth rupture the gums, you can run a damp cloth along your child’s gums in order to get them use to the sensations and to develop some sort of habit.
- By the time your child is 1 years old, or 6 months after the first tooth erupts, take your child to see the dentist. Usually the dentist will give your child a ride in the chair and count their teeth. The main point is to intervene for tooth decay and give your child a positive experience with the dentist to avoid future anxieties.
- Use a child-sized toothbrush with soft bristles. Replace it after 3-4 months or as soon as it shows wear. It is not recommended to share toothbrushes with other people in order to reduce the transferring of germs.
- Use a small dose of toothpaste, the size of a grain of rice, until age 3. Afterwards, increase to the size of a pea. Brush twice a day in the morning and before bed for at least 2 minutes. The molars should be your biggest priority because this is where cavities are more likely.
- As soon as two teeth emerge that touch, floss your child’s teeth once a day. I find the floss sticks super helpful for this task.
- Brush in a gentle circular motion with the brush at a 45 degree angle beside your teeth. The gums are at risk of receding if you brush in a vigorous back and forth motion.
- At about age 6-7, children have the skills and coordination to brush independently. However, I’d still do a check over to ensure they did a sufficient job.
- Fluoride can have mixed reviews depending on who you talk to. The American Dental Association recommends it. The Canadian Dental Association “supports the appropriate use of fluoride in dentistry,” which sounds like a broad application. Check out their website for more information.
Here’s some resources from the Canadian Dental Association:
An Egg Experiment – Egg shells and teeth are both made of calcium and are weakened by acid. Try this fun experiment to show your children how fluoride can strengthen your teeth and lock in the calcium.
Canadian Dental Association – information on teeth cleaning, tooth decay, fluoride, Halloween, and pacifiers/thumb sucking