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As a dentist, I have lost count of the number of parents that have asked me this question. And before having a child myself I must admit that I was a bit blasé about trotting out the answer! I didn’t really get how difficult that brushing a child’s teeth sometimes is. And it’s all very well for a health professional to tell you to do it, but sometimes it really is easier said than done. So…how do I get my child to brush their teeth?
How Do I Get My Child To Brush Their Teeth?
NHS guidelines say that as parents we should be brushing our children’s teeth for them up to the age of around 7. Really, before this they just don’t have the manual dexterity to do it themselves properly. So it is up to the parent to make sure that the child’s teeth are brushed twice a day, for two minutes each time. And ideally this should be once before bed, and on one other occasion during the day.
Even after 7 years of age, it’s still best to supervise your child brushing. At this age, you can show them in the mirror how they should be guiding the toothbrush methodically around all the surfaces. Doing the outside surfaces, inner surfaces and on the biting surfaces in turn to make sure every surface is brushed.
But yes, it’s very easy to say this. But putting into practice can be a struggle. So what can you do to get your child to cooperate and brush their teeth? Here are my top tips.
Use A Timer
Two minutes can actually be a longer time than you think. So using an egg timer or a stop watch is a really good idea.
There are so many out there that it can seem a bit overwhelming to choose. But trying a different one may help if your child really doesn’t want to brush. My little girl hates the taste of mint, so we always go for a fruity flavour. There are also some great character branded toothpaste out there, and they can often be found in the pound shops, so they won’t break the bank.
We love this fruity one with My Little Pony Branding (1000 ppm)
Be aware though, adult fluoride strength toothpastes rarely come in a fruity flavour though, so you may have a bit of a struggle when it does come to switch to a more adult tooth paste! But I am willing to take that risk to get my little one accepting to brush.
Do check the toothpaste has fluoride of the right strength.
- Between 1000 ppm and 1500 ppm for up to age 3 years (and use a smear)
- Between 1000ppm and 1500 ppm for age 3-6 years (and use a pea sized amount)
- And between 1350 ppm and 1500 ppm for age 7 +
Spit out after brushing and don’t rinse, as this keeps the toothpaste active in the mouth for longer.
Use A Chewing Brush
When your baby is very small, it may help to not actually use a brush at all, but use a wipe or a chewing brush to start them on their dental health journey.
We started E brushing using a chewable toothbrush. This one has silicone bristles and a design that is chewed on front and back teeth at once. But you can get a finger version that slips over your finger to let your child chew. These really are just for a few months though, and I would move to using a toothbrush as soon as possible.
Use A Fancy Brush
Again, there are so many brushes out there that it can be hard to choose. But sometimes even letting your child choose their own age appropriate toothbrush may help them be a bit more cooperative when it comes to brushing. Do remember to check the age recommendations on the brush though, as an adult brush head is far too large to do a good job at brushing your child’s teeth.
There are great character toothbrushes out there. And some of the children’s electric ones have timers included, and even may have an app.
The one that worked for us though is this one from Brush-Baby. The small one (yellow one pictured) for up to 3 years lights up and vibrates slightly for 2 minutes. And now E has moved on from this one the next size up actually flashes disco colours for 2 minutes whilst it vibrates. E will not use anything else!
Use An App
Maybe an app could be what you need to get your child to brush their teeth. As I said above, some of the electric toothbrushes that you can buy for children even have an app to download to your phone. Most of them set a timer for brushing and play songs and videos.
We tried the Disney Magic Timer Oral B app when using this toothbrush, but it didn’t really work for us. I think we will try again when E is a bit older, as she found the brush too bulky at 3 years old.
There are lots of other apps out there that you can download too, and it may just be the thing that your child finds helpful.
Distract With A Song or Video
It may just be that you can sing or play a song that your child can brush to for two minutes. This is what we started doing with E from a young age, and it really has helped her cooperate with brushing.
We found quite early on that distraction really can be key when brushing a child’s teeth. We started by using a video from YouTube (Blippi Toothbrushing Song) – but now we just use a favourite cartoon to brush along with. There are loads of toothbrushing songs out there to play, even Hey Duggee has one!
See The Dentist Regularly
Do go see a dentist when the first milk teeth appear, which is usually around 6 months old. This helps your child get used to the dental surroundings and procedure of sitting in a chair and opening.
Then visiting regularly should hopefully prevent any problems and keep an eye on your child’s dental health. Your dentist may even provide fluoride varnishes or seal the teeth.
And Remember That Diet Is Just As Important
Brushing alone will not stop dental decay if your child is eating lots of sweet things, eating too many snacks, having juice in a sippy cup or having a bottle in bed.
This doesn’t mean that your child shouldn’t ever have sweets and sweet snacks, but that they really should just be eaten at the end of a meal. Give healthier snacks if possible. And fizzy drinks are a no-no, as these have a lot of sugar AND have acid in them that can really wear a child’s teeth. Fruit juices should be limited, as they too contain a lot of acid. The only drinks suitable are water and plain milk.
As for having a sippy cup or bottle on a night, this really is to be avoided at all costs. Because there is less saliva flowing around the teeth when we are asleep, there is a bigger risk of anything we drink last thing at night causing decay. So leaving a child with juice to drink through the night is a recipe for disaster. For this reason, brushing last thing at night is recommended, so that the teeth are clean before sleeping.
See other easy sugar swaps that you could make to your child’s diet on the NHS Change4Life website.
Finally – Don’t Force The Issue
Certainly never hold down a child to force them to brush, as this just makes it all the more difficult to get them to do it next time.
Hopefully, a combination of all these tips and tricks will help you to get your child to brush well and ensure that they have good dental health all their lives.
How do you get your child to brush their teeth? Have I answered all your questions, or is there anything else you need to know? DO you have any other tips that you use? I would love to hear from you. Do contact me on social media, or comment below.
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