While adults understand the importance of keeping our teeth clean, brushing can be a dreaded experience for young children. Toddlers don’t understand why you’re prodding at their gums, which can frustrate them, but it’s important to establish a routine early to reduce the risk for future dental problems.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tooth decay is the most common chronic children’s disease in the United States, and nearly 40% of children are affected by kindergarten. Tooth decay in baby teeth also increases the likelihood of cavities as an adult.
Keeping the pearly whites clean and bright
- Regular routine: Incorporate brushing into your regular morning and evening routines with Baby so it doesn’t catch them by surprise. Let them wake up a bit in the morning before starting to brush, as they will be more likely to resist if they are still groggy and grumpy. Similarly, try brushing right after dinner or before their last snack of the day, so you won’t be trying to hold their mouth open while their eyes are starting to shut.
- Familiar faces: Toothbrushes and toothpaste come in many varieties, and some even have characters on the brush or bottle. While you’re shopping, let Baby point out supplies they like, and remind them of how much fun it was to pick them out when brushing time comes around. Brushing is a lot less intimidating with Baby’s favorite color for a theme, or their favorite character along for the ride.
- Sing songs: Toddlers love music, and incorporating a song into the brushing routine can be a great way to get them to relax. Find a brushing song online, or make up one of your own. This will make brushing more fun, and it will also help Baby connect the end of the song with the end of the brushing.
- Mimic motion: Since toddlers are great imitators, now is a good time to show Baby how you brush your teeth, and then let them follow your lead. Pull a step stool alongside the sink and have them practice brushing their teeth by copying your motions. Of course, you’ll want to finish up the job to make sure their teeth get a good cleaning, but this will allow them to better understand the logistics of how brushing works.
- Pretend play: If Baby is resisting because they are afraid of brushing, it may be helpful to let them brush their favorite stuffed animal’s “teeth” first, before doing their own. This works in the same way that giving a doll a shot or a bandage to help show that going to visit the doctor isn’t so scary might. If Baby’s teddy bear can handle it, surely they can, too!
- Lead by example: Letting Baby see you brush your teeth in the morning, even just by leaving the bathroom door open when you do, or brushing your teeth with Baby can help prove to them that toothbrushing is a normal, grown-up part of day-to-day life. You probably won’t convince them to want to brush their teeth, but you can at least reassure them that they isn&;t the only one who has to do it.
- “How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Your Baby.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, May 15 2015. Web.