February is National Children's Dental Health Month. There are multiple campaigns across the country to encourage children to brush, brush, brush. But sometimes it's not that easy. The following are tips for when to start brushing your infant's teeth, how to teach your little one to brush and some ideas to try with those not-so-happy brushers.
Brushing Your Infant's Teeth:
You should start caring for you infant's teeth as soon as they push through the gums. A baby's teeth and gums should be wiped clean with a damp cloth or gauze twice a day. As they start to have more teeth, you can switch to a soft infant toothbrush.
Brushing Your Toddler's Teeth:
When your child is old enough to spit instead of swallow toothpaste, usually around 2-3 years of age, you can start using a pea-sized amount of tartar-control fluoride toothpaste on a child size toothbrush with soft bristles. Using a tartar-control toothpaste will help to decrease any plaque buildup.
As soon as a child shows interest in brushing his own teeth, he should be encouraged to "help" you brush. Young children do not have the motor skills needed to effectively brush on their own; but, you can allow your child to be involved. After you have thoroughly brushed his teeth, give him the toothbrush and allow him to finish up. Be sure to look over his work and praise him when he is done. This encouragement will help build his self-esteem and confidence.
Brushing Your Child's Teeth:
As your child gets older, explain what you are doing when you brush his teeth. "We need to make sure we get every tooth. We clean our teeth with little circular motions. First, we clean all the fronts, then all the backs, then all the tops and bottoms. Last, we lightly brush our gums and our tongue." By verbalizing what you are doing and brushing your child's teeth in the same way each time, your child will start to recognize a pattern and be able to follow it when he begins brushing alone.
Eventually the routine will transition from you brushing his teeth and him finishing up, to him brushing on his own and you finishing up. You will need to do a once over on your child's teeth after he is done brushing until he is at least 7 years old. You should also continue to help him put the toothpaste on his toothbrush to ensure that only a pea-sized amount is used.
Tips For Those Not So Happy Brushers:
1. Use incentives, such as a sticker chart, which can be placed in the bathroom, or a 15-minute later bedtime on the weekends if your child brushes well all week.
2. Continue with positive reinforcement and remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Always tell him what a great job he did, even if you have to re-brush his teeth yourself. After he has started to brush, even a little, without a fight, you can start to encourage him to do it better. Try to still give praise for what he did do well while encouraging him to do a better job such as, "You did a great job but I think you need to spend a little more time on the bottom teeth. You have a lot of teeth and we want to make sure we get them all clean."
3. Make brushing into a game. Put an egg-timer in the bathroom. Children enjoy setting the timer and hearing it ring when it goes off. A digital clock can work too. You can make a game of watching for the number to change. After the first change (the first minute), you yell "switch" and you switch from top teeth to bottom teeth or from the left to the right side. After the second minute, everyone yells "all done".
When to go to the dentist?
Teeth should always be uniform in color without spots or streaks. If you notice discolorations on your child's teeth, you should bring him to the dentist or speak to your pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have their first dental visit at 1 year of age and should have regular dental follow-up. If you do not have access to a dentist, your child's pediatrician may be able to do these initial visits. Children with a high risk for cavities may need to see a dentist as early as 6 months of age. You can discuss with your pediatrician when you should schedule your child's first visit. For a list of pediatric dentists, visit the American Association of Pediatric Dentistry.