How Can I get my Toddler to brush her teeth?

Here is a question from a reader:

I love my little girl to pieces, it is truly a joy to be her mother. However, like every parent, there are times when I struggle with patience. It feels like a battle every night to get her teeth clean. We have tried everything; different brushes, a variety of  toothpastes, our bathroom, her bathroom, sticker rewards, stamp rewards, nothing works! She used to let me wipe her gums and brush her teeth with my handy little scrubber that was on my finger, but now she will not let me get near her mouth with a toothbrush. I worry about her teeth. Will she get cavities on her baby teeth? Can she just rinse with water? I needed some professional guidance.

We asked  Dr. Jeff Rhodes of NWA Pediatric Dental these questions and he gave some great information and advice on this issue.

Any advice on how to get my toddler to brush their teeth?

Many parents rightly want to train their kids to brush their own teeth. The ADA recommends that parents stay involved in their child’s daily oral care until age 12. I recommend letting the little one do the morning time brushing and mom or dad taking care of the more important bed time brushing. Kids don’t have the hand coordination or thoroughness to get all surfaces of all teeth clean. Sometimes getting in there to do the job is huge challenge.  Having had to take decayed teeth out on many two year olds has convinced me it’s one the parents have to win. As they get older, the parents can supervise the brushing then later become an inspector as the child demonstrates they have the skill. Flossing is also important. It should be started when the teeth begin to touch as many young kids also get cavities between the teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach.

Any tactics or strategies that you would recommend?

Like many things that need to be done for a toddler, tooth brushing can be either an easy or frustrating task. It is very important to develop healthy habits at an early age. We recommend starting in early infancy using a clean wash cloth and gently wiping the baby’s gums every day. This gets them used to having things in their mouth. When the first teeth arrive at around 6 months, a baby toothbrush (extra soft) with training toothpaste can get them used to flavors. When your baby gets to be two, we recommend using a BB sized amount of fluoridated tooth paste, pushed down into the bristles of a toddler toothbrush. Use small Cheerios sized circular motions and get the inside and outside of the upper and lower teeth. Make sure the brush gets along the gum line as well. Allowing your baby to swallow large amounts of toothpaste can lead to abnormally colored teeth, but a BB sized amount should pose no threat. Using a star chart or reward system can encourage good habits. Allowing your kid to “earn” rewards for good behavior can be fun for both parent and child. Remember that important habits are not preprogrammed in your child and they don’t always naturally do what’s really best for them. Mother and Father do know what’s best.

How important is it that my toddler brushes? Can they just rinse with water?

Great question. Tooth brushing and flossing can’t be replaced by any other habits. While water may rinse large particles of food out of your child’s mouth, it cannot remove plaque (a tooth-colored bacteria film) or debris that sticks to the teeth. Tooth brushing can mechanically remove both. Flossing gets it out from between teeth. The teeth should be brushed twice daily and flossed once. The bacteria naturally living in your child’s mouth eat any carbs (whether sugars from milk, juice, candy and other sources or starches from crackers, cereals, breads and more) and produce acid within just minutes of eating. These acids dissolve the teeth on a microscopic level every time you eat. Your saliva will reverse the acid and repair the teeth, given one and a half hours without additional food. Tooth brushing and flossing will remove the bacteria buildup decreasing the amount of acid produced and the length of time it’s on the teeth. Fluoride in toothpaste makes the teeth more acid resistant and decreases the amount the teeth dissolve each time we eat. Some of the newer toothpaste has calcium and potassium in them that help get the enamels building-block minerals back in the teeth.

When should my child come in for their first office visit?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child have their first dental visit by age one. The goals of that visit are to establish a dental home, help parents understand how to care for their child’s teeth and to evaluate the development of healthy teeth and mouth. An individualized home care program can be designed for the child and the parents and child can gave confidence they are working with proven health strategies    As a pediatric specialist we see cavities on kids as young as one and sometimes on very cavity prone kids, by age three the decay can be severe and can result in early tooth loss. Once a person begins to have cavities the types of bacteria in mouth change and they are almost always cavity suffered throughout life. A pediatric dental specialist is trained on techniques that allow for a productive visit and is comfortable working with wiggly kids.

Dr. Jeff Rhodes of the Northwest Arkansas Pediatric Dental Center is a Board Certified pediatric dentist practicing in both Rogers and Springdale. He graduated from the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas and did his specialty training at Children’s Hospital of Dallas and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children. He has practiced in Northwest Arkansas since 1990. He is a Past President of the Southwest Society of Pediatric Dentist and a former Committee Member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. He belongs to the Academy of Interdisciplinary Dentofacial Therapy and the Academy of Pediatric Orthodontics and Guidance of Occlusion. He lives in Springdale with his wife, Joy and their two teenaged sons.

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