Ask any parent about brushing their small children's teeth and they’ll tell you it's a complete nightmare. Twice a day, little ones love to show us who's the toothbrush boss by clamping their teeth shut, squirming, running away and crying. It's so frustrating! Many of my patients ask me - surely there is a better way?
Brushing Conall's first teeth when he was a baby.
The truth is, it's hard even for me as a dentist to get it right with my little boy, Conall. He is 2 and a half now and for the twice-daily 2-minutes of stress, I've found a few tricks work wonders.
I hope that by sharing my list, a few of my patients with toddlers (and any parent of toddlers) will find tooth brushing starts to become a less stressful part of your day.
1. Make it fun!
I am constantly trying to keep my son interested and motivated by introducing various “gimmicks”.
At the moment he is using a dinosaur toothbrush which he loves. We previously had great success with a kids electric toothbrush which he adored because he got to mimic mummy and daddy.
Anyone with a toddler will know they get bored of things easily so when they are getting fussy with brushing again introduce a new element to keep them interested.
On this occasion, Aunty Ciara is the new "gimmick" for 20 month old Annabelle.
2. Don’t stress about the 2 minutes!
Yes, in an ideal world your child should be brushing for a whole 2 minutes but who reading here can keep their toddler focused on ANYTHING for 2 minutes?
Instead of the time, focus your efforts on making contact with every surface.
3. Use 2 brushes.
How many times a day do us parents hear “I do myself” from our stubborn toddlers? I know we hear it a lot from our boy!
Yes, they want to do everything themselves at this age and are exploring their own capabilities but the truth is that under the age of 5 the child is simply not able to carry out adequate brushing themselves.
This is why we have 2 brushes on the go and make a game of taking a turn each. All I get is a very quick dash into the mouth at a time where I target the tricky areas like the back molars before Conall exclaims that it’s his turn again. As the game progresses you will have brushed every surface while the child feels content that he/she has done it him/herself.
Conall showing Daddy how it's done
4. Brushing comes AFTER milk.
If your child gets milk at bedtime it is crucial that the brushing comes after the milk and not before. Milk contains lactose which is sugar. Not what you want sitting on the teeth all through the night.
A lot of parents express concern about this tip as they are worried that the calming effect of the soothing milk in the dimly lit room will be completely erased by the stimulation of bringing the child into the brightly lit bathroom for the brushing. What I do to combat this is brush the teeth straight after the milk in the dimly lit room/calm atmosphere.
Under the age of 3 a very small smear of toothpaste is all that’s recommended so there won’t be much excess to spit out and therefore the bathroom sink is not required.
Also rinsing is not recommended after brushing for anyone. If you or your child rinse after brushing you will wash away all the goodness from the toothpaste, namely the fluoride. We need fluoride to keep our teeth strong. The message is “spit don’t rinse”.
5. If all else fails there’s always YouTube!
If you search “toothbrushing song” on YouTube you will find an abundance of videos which are all interactive and last for roughly 2 minutes. Your child will brush along with the character to the music. This has saved us from the battle a few times!
So I hope that helps! There is no doubt that tooth brushing is hard going for parents AND their toddlers, but things do get an awful lot easier from about the age of 3. So I'm told!
Dr Ciara Sutherland is one of City Health Clinic's dentists. You can read more about Ciara here!