I’m a dental hygienist and I’ve heard this more than once from parents! I’m not trying to judge anyone, but it is extremely important that parents have tools and strategies for brushing their kids’ teeth because it is so important!
I brought Eliza to her 4 year well-visit with her pediatrician and they had me fill out one of those questionnaire forms to see if your child is on track developmentally. First of all, I understand they need to screen kids somehow, but those forms seem to just make parents of kids with any type of special needs feel bad…I wish they could have adjusted forms for us. Second of all, I was APPALLED when one of the questions asked, “Does your 4 year old brush their teeth by themselves?” I circled no and wrote a lengthy explanation of why (which I’m sure the nurse just rolled her eyes and entered “no” in the computer and shredded the form).
I was appalled because according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, parents should be brushing their kids’ teeth themselves or at least closely supervising until they are at least 6 years old. Some kids will need help longer!
You can start using a fluoride toothpaste when the first baby tooth comes out but you only use a teeny smear of toothpaste (think grain of rice). The toothpaste commercials showing 2″ of toothpaste are just trying to get you to use more than you need to at a time. Even for adults, a pea sized amount is plenty and a tube of toothpaste should last you a really long time!
A baby should go to the dentist when their first tooth comes through the gums (and then every 6 months after that). Age 1 is the latest a baby should have their first dental visit! You can go to either a pediatric dentist or a family dentist – a pediatric dentist may be a good choice if you think your child will have a difficult time keeping their mouth open or sitting still for a short exam.
But what if my kid won’t let me brush their teeth? It is kind of like asking “what if your kid won’t let you buckle them in their car seat?” …you have to. Some people mistakenly think cavities in baby teeth aren’t a big deal since big teeth will just grow in but they are very important in maintaining space for adult teeth, helping your child learn to eat and speak, and decay can spread from one tooth to another (from baby to permanent teeth in the mouth).
Some tips to help:
- Start early! If a kid is used to having their teeth brushed from the time they are a couple months old, it will be less of a battle as they get older!
- Make it fun! Have a fun-tasting toothpaste (kept out of reach, obviously), a character on a toothbrush they like, or sing a fun song while you brush. Our kids have the Oral-B kids electric toothbrushes from Costco now that they are both 3 and older!
- Show them that you brush your teeth too, that it is a regular part of getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.
- Don’t ever threaten kids with “if you don’t brush your teeth, you will get a cavity and it will HURT” That is just totally setting you up for a meltdown disaster when you eventually need to take them to the dentist (or when they are an adult and are terrified to go in!)
- Brushing should be twice a day, but the most important time is before bed, because bacteria goes crazy at night when we are sleeping and not producing as much saliva!
- Brushing needs to be the LAST thing before going to bed. Absolutely no milk, bedtime snacks, etc. after teeth brushing. If our kids need another bedtime snack, we brush their teeth again. (An exception is nursing babies – just make sure their teeth are brushed and they don’t have any other snacks before bed/their long sleep stretch). No bottles or sippy cups with milk in bed or laying around the house during the day!
And just so you don’t think we have it all together…Oliver (who just turned 3) still HATES having his teeth brushed. He’s happy if we let him do it himself, but can’t stand when we do it for him (which we do). There are sometimes tears, but hopefully he will grow out of it soon!