Toddlers and Toothbrushes – no Battles!
I thought that this might be a bit of a fun topic to give my attention to and to do a bit of a series on how I gently coerce my kids into doing the things that I want them to do with as little fight as possible. I should probably start with a disclaimer that H-boy is most probably someone who could be classed as an early adopter. It doesn’t seem to take him too long to get the hang of too many things – and cleaning teeth was no different.
Teeth cleaning is something that can cause a bit of confusion when it comes to toddlers. When do we start? But cleaning teeth is important! Do we use toothpaste? Should they rinse and then spit or just spit? But what about the fluoride if they decide they like the taste of toothpaste? When should their first trip to the dentist be?
Where do I begin?
I guess the best place to start is to allow your little one to get used to having you put you fingers in their mouth from a very early age. Be gentle, use clean hands and make it fun – without encouraging biting if possible.Turn it into a game. It is important for kids to become familiar with the feeling of having someone else fingers in their mouth and not being tempted to bite or clamp their jaw together. As your little one gets older make a bath time game out of them opening their mouth and poking their tongue out for you and showing you their teeth.
It is important to not force the issue with them or to make it unpleasant in any way.
This same rule goes for when you first introduce a toothbrush. Buy a small soft toothbrush designed for kids small mouths and start with just water or the tiniest smidgen of children’s toothpaste. Your toddler WILL eat the toothpaste – and then ask for more. While this might be cute – eating toothpaste is not really a habit you want to encourage – while a small amount of fluoride can be good for teeth – it is not designed to be swallowed.
Right now it is not important to make a big fuss about cleaning teeth twice daily and making sure they do it right. You just want them to get used to the idea of doing it at all! Give them the toothbrush and let them have a go themselves. Empower them and praise them on their efforts.
Harness the power of imitation
A handy trick for getting them used to the idea that everyone cleans their teeth is to clean your own teeth at the same time. Let your toddler see you cleaning your teeth, show them how you do it. You might hear a little voice in your head saying something along the lines of…but I haven’t had my dinner yet or…but I was planning on having dessert. It doesn’t matter – you can still clean your teeth again after your dinner or dessert 🙂 What is important is the concept that toddlers learn by imitation.
It is generally agreed that teeth cleaning in children should start when they get their first teeth. This doesn’t need to be formal teeth cleaning though, a wet washer wrapped around your finger and rubbed in their mouth and over their teeth will suffice. There are also commercially available ‘gum massagers’, I had one for my Baby-B as it was given to me and I have found it useful for him to hold and put in his own mouth while H-Boy is cleaning his teeth in the bath.
To rinse or not to rinse?
This brings up the issue of trying to teach a toddler the concept of rinse and spit.. Trying to explain to a toddler that it is ok to spit toothpaste water out but it is not ok to spit at other times can be a slow and painful process. In our case – trying to teach the toddler to spit and not just swallow the water was the bigger challenge. It took a very long time before he worked that concept out. Many dentists will recommend that small children be encouraged not to rinse and spit but instead to just spit the toothpaste out leaving some residue in the mouth. The rationale behind this advice is that if a toddler is not cleaning his teeth thoroughly then they are better off to have some degree of protection from the residue of the toothpaste than none at all.
When do I to start visiting the dentist with my toddler?
In the first instance the best idea is to just take them along with you to a regular check up session and book a few extra minutes with the dentist so that your little one can have a chair ride in the dentist chair. This introduces to concept of the dentist to them gently. The get to see all the tools and some dentists will encourage the child to open their mouth so that they can have a quick look at the condition of the baby teeth and how their tooth development is coming along. The most ideal time for this first visit to the dentist is between 2 and 3 years.
On the whole you want the toddlers early experience of teeth cleaning to be fun rather than fight- you want them to be asking to clean their teeth each day and getting them used to the idea of teeth cleaning being an essential part of daily health and hygiene. I’ll continue this post next week with a short post about which toothpaste we use for our little chipmunks.
Good luck keeping those baby choppers bright and shiny!!
::Daily Meditation:: Take a deep breath and enjoy the small moments of peace in your day