Fresh breath. Anytime I think of this I automatically think about toothpaste commercials and someone making the “ahhhh, cool fresh breath” face. Anyone else? No? Only me? Well, this week we celebrate Fresh Breath Day. In honor of this day I thought that we should talk about tooth brushing.

Those that have followed the blog for a while now may remember that a couple of years ago I spoke about Introducing Tooth Brushing. Today I’d like to go a bit further to discuss the actual process of brushing your teeth, and how you can encourage your own child to brush their teeth daily.

Introducing the Toothbrush

When should you first take your child to the dentist? Well, depending on which pediatric dentist you speak to you may get different responses. Some may recommend bringing your child in at birth so they can examine your child’s oral structure, while others may recommend holding off until they’re about 1. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child visit the dentist for the first time by age 1 or within 6 months after their first tooth erupts.

Regardless of when you first take your child, everyone agrees that you should be proactive about brushing your child’s teeth. Start early. Give them a silicon teething toy that has soft bristles so they begin to get used to the sensation in their mouth.  You can either introduce it to them by you placing it in their mouth, or you can do what I always like to do…just hand it to them. More likely than not, they are going to put it in their mouth as this is an infant’s primary form of exploration.

When to Start Brushing

Many resources recommend that you wipe down your child’s gums with a damp cloth after each feeding. While this is ideal, let’s be honest…no one has time for that. Especially not if you have multiple children. So when should you really start to brush? As soon as your child’s first tooth erupts. That’s the time when you want to invest in either the small silicon finger brush or a soft bristle tooth brush.

The earlier you introduce a toothbrush to your child, the less likely you will encounter negative situations where they don’t want it in their mouth. Allow them to have control over it at first and let them simply explore their mouth with the brush. Then after a couple of times, you take over for a bit and say “now it’s mommy’s/daddy’s turn to brush”.

Brining in the Tooth Paste

There are plenty of toddler and child toothpastes on the market. My recommendation is to ask your pediatrician or dentist which one they recommend before you go out and purchase one. Once you have, use a small, pea sized – or smaller – amount of toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush (you really shouldn’t be able to put more than that on the brush anyway since they are so tiny!)

Remember that your young child won’t know how to swish and spit, so for the beginning of their teeth brushing adventures, they’re probably going to just swallow the toothpaste. It’s ok since you’re using such a small amount, and that’s one of the reasons children’s toothpaste is different from adult toothpaste.

How to Brush

Before you brush your child’s teeth, think about how you brush yours. In fact, start brushing your teeth in front of your child so they see how it’s done. Remember that as toddlers there comes a time when not only do they want to be independent, but they want to do what you’re doing so they feel like a ‘big kid’. So, while you’re brushing, talk about it. “I’m starting on the top in the back and making tiny circles on one side, and now I’m moving to the other side.”

Do you have an electric toothbrush? Ever notice that it lasts about 2 minutes? Technically everyone should brush their teeth for at least 2 minutes. If you don’t have an electric toothbrush you can take out your phone and set the timer for 2 minutes. Or there are plenty of kid friendly timer apps on the market that you can set for your child. Try to encourage them the brush for the full 2 minutes.

Remember that there are 4 areas to cover when brushing – uppers and lowers, front and back. Each tooth should be brushed each time your child brushes their teeth, so if they are unable to cover the areas on their own, help them out during mommy or daddy’s turn. You want to make sure they are brushing the whole tooth (front, back and top) and even the roof of their mouth and their tongue.

Help it along with a Song

As I’ve mentioned before, many kids will perform tasks to a song. I can’t exactly explain it other than it makes it fun and engaging. When P was younger I made up the following song to the tune of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’:

Brush, brush, brush your teeth

Brush them nice and clean

Brush, brush, brush your teeth

So they are nice and clean

The song makes no sense whatsoever, but P loved it and it encouraged her to participate in the activity. And now T only wants to brush his teeth because he sees P doing it. It doesn’t matter what the words are to the song, as long as you sing it in a happy sing-song voice and it contains some words that are associated with what you’re asking your child to do.

Make it their Choice

When you’re ready to dive into the world or toothbrushes and toothpaste, make it a fun, family activity. Take your child with you to the drug store or market and place them in front of the children’s section. Pick out 2 options and let them choose. I took P and said, “Do you want strawberry flavor or bubble gum flavor”. She can’t read…she doesn’t know that there are a multitude of flavors, some of which sounded absolutely disgusting to me. So, I chose the 2 that sounded most benign and let her make the final selection.

I also gave her a choice of 2 toothbrushes. The ownership that she took in brushing her teeth following her selections was pretty remarkable. Simply giving her the option allowed her to feel a sense of independence that toddlers are constantly striving for.

Create a Fun Routine

My kids’ dentist always tells them that she is checking for ‘sugar bugs’ when they go in for a teeth cleaning. So, at home, when we brush, we say that we’re getting rid of the ‘sugar bugs’. P and T think it’s hilarious and actually allow me to look in their mouths and help them brush.

We also incorporate turn taking into the act of tooth brushing. P gets a choice, either she goes first or my husband and I do. Either way, she gets the opportunity to brush her teeth and then we get the chance to make sure the important surfaces have been covered. This allows P to feel accomplished and also gives her the opportunity to continue to learn how to brush her teeth.

By turning the act of brushing their teeth into a fun routine, my kids are more likely to participate. They brush and then mommy or daddy help them brush. Tooth brushing is now part of our daily routine both in the morning – after breakfast when doing P’s hair – and in the evening – right before she gets into bed. And now that T is old enough to participate as well, he follows along with the routine.

Just remember, tooth brushing is a lifelong routine that you want your child to participate in daily. The earlier you introduce the process in a fun, stress-free manner, the more likely your child will participate later in life without hesitation. Fun, consistent participation can lead to stress-free, battle-free tooth brushing. 😊