Brushing up on your toddler’s oral hygiene

Just when you thought teething was the cause of the most tooth-related tears, it’s now time to make sure you’re establishing a healthy brushing routine – an act most toddlers will resist in the early stages.

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. 

It may be daunting trying to get Baby on board with brushing, but with a little work and the right spin, he may even start to see brushing time as fun.

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 him by surprise. Let him wake up a bit in the morning before starting to brush, as he will be more likely to resist if he is still groggy and grumpy. Similarly, try brushing right after dinner or before his last snack of the day, so you won’t be trying to hold his mouth open while his 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 he likes, and remind him 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 his 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 him 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 him follow your lead. Pull a step stool alongside the sink and have him practice brushing his teeth by copying your motions. Of course, you’ll want to finish up the job to make sure his teeth get a good cleaning, but this will allow him to better understand the logistics of how brushing works.
  • Pretend play: If Baby is resisting because he is afraid of brushing, it may be helpful to let him brush his favorite stuffed animal’s “teeth” first, before doing his 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 he 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 him that toothbrushing is a normal, grown-up part of day-to-day life. You probably won’t convince him to want to brush his teeth, but you can at least reassure him that he 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.

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