The American Dental Association recommends that as soon as you start to see your baby’s teeth come in, they need to be cleaned. As a parent, you have an important role to play in your child’s healthy smile and one of the most important things you can do is help them brush their teeth. When they’re very young you can just take a rag and wipe the teeth, however as they get closer to their first birthday you should seriously consider brushing. Tooth brushing should be done twice a day, preferably in the morning and before bedtime.
Once their first tooth erupts, it is time to start brushing! When they are young, brush their teeth for them. First thing you should consider before brushing is to take your kids to the store and let them pick out their toothbrush with one of their favorite characters. In that way, they’re going to be a little more excited about going home and trying it. And when you brush you have to smile, you have to crack jokes, you have to tap dance, maybe do a little twirl. They need to understand that this is fun. You also do not want to always go to the bathroom.
The child should know that brushing anywhere is fine. It often helps to stand behind them while cradling their head in one arm, while the other arm is free to use the toothbrush. You can do this sitting down or standing up. For very young children, it may be easiest to brush their teeth when they are lying down with their head on your lap.
This allows you to see better and ultimately do a better job! However, in my experience I would not recommend laying them down because the gag reflex is more prominent when they’re on their back. So, keep them upright or leaning forward a little bit. Also when you’re in the bathroom, if you do brush, hold them in front of the mirror. And that way the child sees that image mirrored and they’ll think it’s fine.
Next, help squeeze no more than a pea size amount of fluoridated toothpaste on their toothbrush. If your child is younger than 3 years old, only use toothpaste if they are at a high risk of developing cavities. When using fluoridated toothpaste, make sure your child spits it out and does not swallow it. Place the bristles of the toothbrush where the gums and teeth meet. Gently brush in a small circular motion over every tooth, since brushing too hard can damage your child’s teeth and gums.
Proper tooth brushing takes at least 2 minutes! To keep track of the time, it helps to use a timer or brush along to a song. Start by brushing the outside or cheek side of the teeth in a circular motion. When brushing the inside of the front teeth, it helps to use the bristles at the tip of the brush to easily remove the plaque.
Next, brush the top or chewing surface of the teeth with a gentle back and forth motion. Finally, brush the tongue gently from back to front. When they are all done, get your child to spit in the sink and rinse their mouth with a little bit of water. Help them rinse their toothbrush and then let it air-dry.
You need, as a parent, to brush their teeth after every meal, gently, nicely without toothpaste. When your child can properly write his or her name in cursive, they are ready to start brushing by themselves and your job is done. This usually happens at around 8 years old. But, it is still important to supervise to make sure they are doing a good job!
Dr. Peter Wong
HVS – Hidden Valley Smiles