Teeth Brushing 101
March, 2008 - Issue #41
Getting your child to brush is quite challenging because children are not motivated by necessity but rather by fun and pleasure. Making this daily activity fun and pleasant for your little one will go a long way in establishing a life-long routine that will keep your child smiling and healthy.

Start early. Cleaning your newborn's gums after every meal is not just important to prevent gum infection but also gets her accustomed to the feeling of a clean mouth. Use a soft damp washcloth, gauze or finger brush to gently clean her gums with warm water.

Play. Let him/her play with a toothbrush. Have the child brush his favorite teddy's "teeth" with it. Make it seem fun. Come up with a special song that you and your child can sing when he brushes.

Monkey see, monkey do. Toddlers copy everything they see. Brush your teeth in front of her making sure to exaggerate your excitement and even let her "brush" your teeth for you. Getting older siblings involved is a great idea. Your little one will repeat after her big brother with zeal and the big brother is likely to do it right at least this one time, being entrusted with such responsibility.

Give them control. Toddlers love to be in control. Let her pick the brush she likes in a store. She will be excited to use it when she gets home. Keep a few brushes at home and ask her to choose one every night.

No paste - no problem. Toothpaste is not as critical to brushing as the act of brushing itself. Some kids have pretty strong aversion to certain tastes. Try different pastes to see which one he likes best or brush with a damp brush sans the paste.

Take time. Give yourself enough time. Toddlers are notorious for stalling. If you rush them, they will sense your irritation and will be less likely to cooperate. Use the same technique called show-do-tell that most dentists use to comfort children. Let them experience a new toothbrush first. Show him/her how soft it gets under water and let her apply toothpaste. Explain why brushing is important in a simple child-friendly way - "We have to brush our teeth so that they can stay strong, white and healthy - just like we wash our hands when we use the potty." Do not threaten with the visit to the dentist.

Take turns. Toddlers are known for wanting to do everything themselves but cannot thoroughly brush their teeth by themselves until they have the dexterity to cursive write. Brush their teeth yourself first and let them finish up after you.

Let them show off. Kids love to show off and they love to be complimented on their accomplishments. Ask your toddler to show off his/her skills to Grandma, the neighbor or Fluffy the cat.

Get props. Brushing is a boring chore and two minutes of it may seem like an eternity to an active toddler. Use fun toys to keep them busy and having fun. A Sand Tooth Timer works great for this.

Trick or treat. A reward system that will keep your kids brushing on a quest of recognition. Kids will happily work for some sort of a reward as long as it's immediate. Make a calendar with your child and place a sticker for every time they brush well. They can get a bigger prize from a tooth fairy (you) for a job well done after collecting a number of stickers.

Get an ally. A trip to your friendly family dentist can teach little ones a lot about dental hygiene. Also, check out your local library for books or tapes about teeth with friendly and familiar characters your child loves.

Be patient. If your child meets your efforts with resistance or escalates to a tantrum, let them calm down, comfort them and try again after the tantrum cools down. Don't force them, but be firm and consistent with your message that brushing is important. Eventually the child will catch on and quit fighting you. Forcing is likely to backfire with even greater resistance.

Dr. Gina Dorfman is the owner of Dentistry for Kids and Adults.
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