Good Oral Habits Start at Home!
Do you have a child who doesn’t want to brush their teeth? Does your child fight you when you tell them it’s time to brush? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, I think every parent deals with this in some capacity. In fact, my kids will be 4 soon and I still encounter it. My son was always somewhat compliant. My daughter, on the other hand, was a nightmare. I’m serious! She was a kicking, screaming, thrashing nightmare and as the child of not one but two dentists there was no way she was going to get out of brushing her teeth every day (at least twice!). We worked and worked and worked with her, and now you would never know that she used to fight us when it came to brushing.
So what are parents supposed to do?
Before the teeth even arrive in the mouth I recommend taking a wet washcloth and simply swiping their gums. This gets them used to the idea of having something put in their mouth every day. The first tooth is going to arrive in the mouth sometime around the age of 6 months so it’s very easy to contain a little infant. It’s when they get bigger that the problems begin.
Around six months that first tooth is going to show up (it is most likely to be the bottom front tooth) and now it’s time to get serious. This is also the time that children are traditionally introduced to actual food (“solids”) so it’s extremely important to get that mushy banana puree off those sparkling new teeth! There’s a great toothbrush that we give to new parents that you can find here . (If you would like to see a picture of this toothbrush in action please see this blog post regarding your child's first dental appointment. ) It’s easily held in both an adult and a child’s hand. The shape of it is great because the ovoid design prohibits kids from pushing the toothbrush too far back into their mouth. The adult should brush the teeth first and then let the little bundle of joy play with it a bit. In addition to the bristle end, there are little bumps on the other side so the child can chew around on it and make their gums feel better while they’re teething. At this age the kids are still not mobile yet, so again, it’s easy to control them if they start to fight you. Once they get walking it’s a new ballgame though!
A note about biting the bristles: try not to let your child do too much of this. In the beginning you of course want the child to hold the toothbrush and explore it themselves. In general, however, chewing on the bristles of any toothbrush is never recommended because the bristles can come loose and be ingested. Also, don’t fool yourself if you think that chewing on the bristles is doing much in the way of actually cleaning the teeth. Chewing on the bristles actually does a very poor job of cleaning the teeth so the child should always be encouraged to stay open to tolerate proper brushing instead of letting them chew around and you hoping the teeth are getting clean.
Once the child is up and walking, the real fighting seems to begin. They’re mobile now, they’re surprisingly fast, and they can be strong!
As a dentist and a mother this is what I believe: you’re the parent, you’re in charge and you’re bigger than them. If you don’t get control over the child’s behavior when they’re young you never will. This isn’t just about tooth brushing. This is about your child respecting you as a parent and trusting you to do the right thing for them when they themselves can’t do it.
If you have a child that fights you when it comes time to brush their teeth, the first thing I would do is to encourage group brushing. If the child sees Mom and Dad and/or another sibling or whoever else brushing, then they will want to brush too. Often, encouraging your child to model your behavior is enough to get them to stop the fight.
If your child keeps turning their head or still fights you then this may be a two person job for a while. You may want to have one person gently hold the child’s head while the other brushes. You could even do this two person job lying down.
If you’re brushing your child’s teeth and you’re alone, I will tell you how I did this with my feisty little girl when my husband was out of the house. I would lay her down on the floor and sit behind her head. I would put her head between my thighs to keep her head still and I would put my legs over her arms so she couldn’t hit me. Of course, she hated it at first and she seemed to fight the process even harder but guess what? A screaming child has their mouth open, and it’s easy to get those teeth clean with their mouth wide open!
Now, some people may criticize this technique but it was effective. In a short matter of time she went from being a crazy girl at tooth brushing time to being no problem at all. Here's the former reluctant brusher now. She stands still, opens her mouth and lets the electric toothbrush do it's work for the full two minutes. We're so proud of her!