This week we’re celebrating National Tooth Fairy Day, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to discuss how and when you begin to introduce tooth brushing to your child. It’s pretty weird when you think about it because tooth brushing is really just second nature to adults. It’s just something you do. Do you even remember someone teaching you how to do it?
When a child is an infant, they first explore the world through their mouths. If you notice, around 4 months of age everything starts going in their mouth. Toys, blankets, fingers, everything. In fact, as an occupational therapist, it’s one of the first movements I really look for when treating infants. Are they bringing items to their mouth?
Some children will be orally defensive and not place anything in their mouth. Or, they may not even realize they have a mouth to place an object into. Children experiencing these situations may need a little more assistance than others when it comes to introducing tooth brushing.
For the rest of the kids that are mouthing everything, the first way to start the tooth brushing process can be as simple as presenting your child with a silicon toy that has soft silicon bristles on it. One of my daughter’s favorites was the Baby Banana
Not only did my daughter use this as a teething toy, but it acclimated her to bristles in her mouth. Sometimes, I would use a silicon finger toothbrush such as Dr. Brown’s to gently massage her gums and get her used to the feeling of having a toothbrush in her mouth.
Once my daughter had about 8 teeth, we switched to a toddler toothbrush. My daughter happened to love the Jordan Step 1 Baby Toothbrush because she was able to brush her teeth on her own. As an occupational therapist I love it because it has a wide grip handle that is easy for her to hold and manipulate.
Speak with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist to find out which toothpaste they recommend and place a very small amount on the bristles. The way my daughter and I do it is mommy brushes first and then she can take over and brush for as long as she wants. Since I’m brushing first, I know that I am touching each tooth.
So what do you do if your child doesn’t want to brush their teeth? There are several ways to get them interested without forcing the matter. The first thing to do is brush your teeth in front of them. Show them how it’s done. Narrate the process for them: “Mommy takes out the toothbrush and puts some toothpaste on it. Then I brush brush brush…” Most kids will eventually reach the phase where they want to do whatever you’re doing. So the more you brush in front of them, the more interested they will likely become.
I have also learned as an occupational therapist that most kids will do anything for a song. It doesn’t have to be a song that you’ve heard…you can just make one up. For example, I used to sing this 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 my daughter loved it and it encouraged her to participate in the activity. 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, you’re going great!
Just remember, tooth brushing is something you want your child to eventually 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. Early introduction can lead to stress-free, battle-free tooth brushing later. 🙂
***Just a gentle reminder that I am not recommending any particular products. I am simply letting you know which products worked for me and my daughter. If you find another one that works better for you and your little one, go for it!