Any parent whose toddler has clamped his mouth shut tightly during tooth-brushing time knows that enforcing good dental hygiene can spark a daily war of wills. Moms and dads, don't let tooth brushing become a battleground in your house! Step up to the challenge and learn some great tricks to set your child on his way to good dental care habits and a healthy smile!
They're Just Baby Teeth
Even though it's true that your child's primary, or "baby," teeth are eventually going to fall out, it's still crucial that parents and kids practice good dental habits from early on. Baby teeth help your child speak clearly and chew food. They also hold the space in a child's jaw so that the permanent teeth developing under the gums can grow in straight.
The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that once a child's teeth appear, parents clean them twice a day with a soft, child-sized toothbrush. While using damp gauze or a soft wet cloth works well on baby's sensitive gums, a toothbrush is going to do a better job on a toddler's teeth, which are now closer together and more likely to have plaque—the soft, sticky, bacteria-containing deposits that accumulate on the teeth and cause decay. So what's the trick to getting toddlers to let you brush their pearly whites?
From the time your child is a baby, let him watch you brush your teeth. Show him through your smiles and actions how fun it is, and when your child is old enough, allow him to brush "just like Mommy and Daddy" do! It's OK if he chews on the bristles and just has a bit of water on the brush—you are setting the foundations of a healthy habit (and doing as what you can to avoid tooth brushing tantrums later!).
Look in your child's mouth and tell her you see something in there she'll find funny: mashed potatoes, pumpkins, sugar bugs, etc. Be silly about it, exclaiming, "Oh boy! We'd better get those giant tomatoes out of your teeth!" with flair. If you play the dramatic comedian, your child is likely to focus more on you than the brush going into her mouth.
Children love routine, and singing the same song each night will help calm your child—he will appreciate the predictability. Singing will also make the brushing time pass more quickly! You can even make up your own tooth brushing song to a familiar tune. And don't be afraid to use nonsense words, sound effects—whatever it takes to get the job done.