Kids aren’t generally fond of having their teeth brushed. I have four children, and to my disappointment, none of them have been super enthusiastic about the prospect of teeth brushing (at least initially). I guess the love of dental hygiene isn’t passed down genetically?
As a dad who is also a dentist, I’ll give you a few useful tips on how to get the job done effectively and with as little drama as possible.
THE OLD METHOD
Most parents brush their child’s teeth while the child is sitting on the counter or standing on a stool and while the child is facing them or facing the mirror.
The problem with this method is that kids tend to look down instead of up. When they look down, it makes it nearly impossible for the brusher to see what they are doing.
Then, if they start to struggle, it’s hard to contain them. When your child starts to wiggle, you begin to brush harder just to try to get a few more strokes in before your kid has a complete meltdown. I often find that this frenetic and sometimes forceful brushing is the reason kids HATE having their teeth brushed. It’s hard to have a relaxed brushing hand while your other hand is gripping your toddler to keep them from falling off the bathroom counter.
In the end, this method leaves parents feeling overwhelmed and like, “Well, I did the best I could,” – which may not be good enough to prevent cavities.
THE NEW METHOD
I want to propose that you move the brushing operation to a place that is comfortable for you to sit and for your little one to lay down. If there is a plush bathroom rug nearby, go for it. We brush teeth in our kids’ bedrooms on the floor.
- To begin, sit with your legs parted.
- Invite your child to lay down, either in-between your legs with their head close to you and their face looking up at you.
- If this is the first time, or you anticipate a struggle, have them place their arms under your legs so that they can’t move them. It is much easier to keep them still in this position using your legs. You will have both your hands free to deal with brushing.
*Once your child used to this method, and doesn’t wiggle, you can cross your legs as you sit to give them a little headrest.
- Floss the teeth first! Believe it or not, most kids will enjoy the flossing. They think it feels funny to glide the floss between their teeth. Bonus points for having “yummy”-tasting floss like mint or Coco Floss.
- Brush your child’s teeth for a full 2 minutes, angling the brush toward the gums, and use small circular strokes over each tooth. Make sure you spend some time on the chewing surfaces of molars where food can get stuck and cavities happen more regularly. Be sure to remind your child not to swallow the toothpaste.
- Teach your child to spit the toothpaste out, rinse the toothbrush, and if he needs a little time to calm down, a small drink of water. Ideally, the child wouldn’t drink water immediately following toothbrushing to allow the fluoride to penetrate the teeth, but to begin getting a calm brushing routine down, this can help.
- As the brusher, you can now see what you’re doing! After all, this is how your dentist looks at your teeth. Plus you can make funny faces to help ease your child’s temperament and he or she will actually see them.
- Because this is how the dentist will look at your child’s teeth (while they sit in a chair, of course), this prepares them for their dental visits. Children who brush their teeth this way at home are much calmer when they come into my office.
- Once they are accustomed to having their teeth brushed this way, you can brush their teeth correctly for a full 2 minutes without drama.
- This position is also an excellent angle for flossing. Little floss picks solve the problem of an adult hand trying to fit in a child’s mouth, but I use traditional floss with my kids and they actually enjoy that part most of all. Just be sure you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before moving onto the next child’s mouth.
- If they are struggling, they are only struggling against not being able to move how they would like. This position is much safer than gripping your child or trying to maneuver them into a better position. They may not like it, but they are not in pain – so don’t feel bad. Ultimately, you are taking care of a critical part of their health. They don’t understand it now, but they’ll thank you later, so persevere!
- Let your child hold a plush toy for comfort while you brush their teeth.
- To keep them entertained for 2 minutes, you can sing a few rounds of a song they like as you brush. Baby Shark, eh? If you have a helper, having them blow bubbles will do wonders. Do you know any young child who doesn’t immediately open his or her mouth in awe when bubbles are blown? Trust me.
- Make sure the toothbrush you are using is child-sized. An adult-sized toothbrush is designed for an adult mouth; it may be too large and cause pain for the child, and it won’t do as good of a job reaching all the kid-sized spaces.
- Let them hold a small kitchen timer, or 2-minute sand timer so they can see how long is left.
- Let them choose their own toothpaste. If they feel they have some control over part of the situation, they’ll be more likely to cooperate. And don’t feel crazy if you have a toothpaste for each person in the family — it’s worth it to pay a couple of dollars for various toothpaste flavors now to avoid costly dental treatments down the road.
- Be silly! Make a game out of whatever part is causing trouble. For one of my children, it’s flossing, so I always start by pretending I’m about to floss his nose or my eyes or his ears. Once he’s giggling, his mouth is open and I can start his teeth. Another child constantly follows the toothbrush with her tongue making it difficult to reach any of her teeth because the tongue is in the way. So we play “don’t touch the toothbrush” where no part of her mouth can touch it except her teeth. Get creative and don’t stress!
WILL THIS METHOD MAKE MY CHILD HATE BRUSHING?
NO! Sometimes when I share this method with parents, they worry that it will make their kids hate brushing their teeth even more. If this positioning sounds extreme, I promise it’s a method that is widely recommended by dentists and one that parents and children in the Anderson Dental Care practice end up liking a lot. Most kids get the hang of it pretty quickly and reach a point where they don’t struggle. Even my one-year-old now crawls right into my lap, lies down and says “ah” for me to brush his teeth. I have to hold his arms out of the way so he doesn’t steal the toothbrush, but for the most part, he stays calm for the whole two minutes.
The hard truth of the matter is if you don’t figure out a way to clean your child’s teeth effectively, they will get cavities. I can promise that getting cavities filled by a dentist is WAY more stressful for your child than being restrained in the comfort of their own home by a loving parent, who is singing to them and talking them through temporary discomfort.
As a parent, this is a choice you make — allow your children to work through struggling briefly at home or let them struggle here in my office through tougher cleanings and getting fillings.
At Anderson Dental Care we have a great reputation among our families with small children for creating a great experience for their kids. We offer “happy visits” for even the youngest family members, and family appointments where the whole crew can come in together to our Cincinnati office and get their teeth cleaned.
If your kids aren’t being seen regularly by a dentist due to cost, you’ll be happy to know that we provide an affordable alternative to paying out of pocket or carrying pricey dental insurance.
At Anderson Dental Care, we offer a PREMIER DENTAL CARE MEMBERSHIP, and our members save 20% on dental procedures and get anywhere from 2-4 maintenance cleanings a year. Packages for children are $26/month.