If you’re reading an article called “How to Brush Your Teeth for Kids,” my guess is that your little ones are ready for some serious oral hygiene. You made it through the first few months of child rearing and think you have it down…Then, that first little tooth appears.
“What do I do?” you ask. How do you keep that little pearl of a tooth clean and cavity-free?
In this article, we’ll cover both when and how to brush your kid’s teeth (correctly, that is). But even more importantly, I’ll talk about the way to instill brushing in your child’s mind as a fun, lifelong habit.
How do I look after my child’s teeth?
Before we get into the “how” to brush your teeth for kids, let’s define what it means to look after your child’s teeth.
Why? Because brushing part is secondary to something much more important:
How your child learns to brush now affects your child’s relationship with dental health for the rest of their life.
Sound dramatic? It’s not. I have seen many kids come into our office traumatized just because of what the toothbrush signified at home.
Here’s what you don’t want: You don’t want the toothbrush to come out and for your kids to want to run away from this thing that invades a sensitive part of their body. Sadly, there are many kids that think, “Hey, this is a fun game where my parents really want me to do something! I’ll run away and make it torture for them.”
I believe you can’t force anyone to do anything—especially kids.
The idea is to teach the “how to brush your teeth: for kids” lesson in such a way that makes it fun! Your little one is much more likely to love their brushing habit if it brings joy to his or her day.
Clearly, it’s important to get this right. Here’s another piece of encouragement: It’s okay to sacrifice a “perfect” brushing job in order to make the experience really positive for your kids. If it means getting it right one day, it’s worth it.
While technique matters and should be developed over time, the experience is what matters most at first. Ideally, you’ll also be using supplements to heal cavities alongside with these brushing habits (and keeping your child’s regular dental appointments). Those are just a couple of ways you can both protect your child from cavities while also giving them a lifelong lesson in the best brushing habits.
The way to do this is to make sure your kids see you brushing (and having a blast!) 2-3 times per day. This is key to creating a positive experience that’s also part of every day’s routine.
You want your child to come to expect brushing in the same way they expect dinner time or bathtime or storytime before bed. Consistency is key—you should begin as soon as the first tooth appears at around six months, but if your child is older, it’s never too late to start. I start seeing children at the age of 3.
Above all else, aim to make brushing your child’s teeth a pleasurable experience so it becomes a habit your child takes into adulthood.
Brush in front of them, 2-3 times a day, when you brush.
This Confucius quote perfectly describes why you should first brush your own teeth in front of your children before expecting them to let you do it:
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. -Confucius
A baby isn’t capable of self-reflection or the understanding of why brushing even matters. If you force them to experience brushing before they perceive it as a positive habit, it might bring on tears and fear.
But when you set an example of brushing your teeth as a fun, enjoyable event, they can imitate you with anticipation. Some children may even beg for their turn to try it!
Tap dance, crack jokes, do whatever it takes to convince your child that this is a normal and fun daily routine. Just as dinner is a family activity, you can make brushing a time when the family gathers in the bathroom to brush after a meal.
This is great when your child is just starting to brush their first tooth, between 6-12 months of age.
Already past the one-year mark and worried you started off teaching brushing on the wrong foot? There’s no shame here! Parenting is hard, and knowing your child needs to brush can be frustrating when your request is always met with complaint.
If your child hates brushing his/her teeth because of early encounters, take some time to back off forcing the habit and start fresh. Begin a new routine and allow your child to warm up to brushing with a new perspective.
Put on a show.
Have one parent brush the other parent’s teeth.
Let your kid brush your teeth! (good luck, and make sure you don’t grimace!)
Have your kid brush the dog’s teeth…and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
In the end, our kids do what we do (scary, I know). Brush and floss in front of and with your kids!
Bonus: your own oral health will get a great boost at the same time.
Keep it positive. Never resort to fear tactics.
I’m a parent, too. I get it. You better believe I’ve resorted to threatening the little one when she just…wouldn’t…listen.
But playing hardball can result in resentment and even dental phobia later on in life, which is still quite common. In fact, over 50% of the population seeks dental care only when they are in pain.
This leads to more costly dental procedures because most things in dentistry need to be caught early and treated or reversed—waiting almost always is the worst thing to do!
The worst thing to do is threaten your child while teaching how to brush your teeth for kids. Beyond all, please don’t use the dentist as a threat. This will paint dental visits as a big, scary punishment, which isn’t a good precedent to set.
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