The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry is now recommending that infants see a dentist before their first birthday, or shortly after the first teeth erupt. This may seem early, but it is for good reason. Poor oral health and dental decay are all too prevalent in young children and can be cause of significant pain and suffering. Baby teeth serve important functions in chewing, language development, and as place-holders for adult teeth. An early visit to the dentist can help catch any cavities and offers an opportunity to discuss dental care and fluoride needs. Practically speaking, I encourage parents to at least get to the dentist between the first and second birthday.
I took my son to his first dentist appointment around sixteen months of age. I wasn’t quite sure what they’d be able to accomplish at this age, but the appointment itself went better than expected. I was settled into a comfortable reclining chair with the little guy in my arms. A video about trains played on the ceiling television. A dental hygienist reviewed his teeth for plaque build-up with a pink disclosing solution. She brushed his teeth. She took our picture. And, at the end of the visit, we received a little bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and an egg timer.
At the time, I didn’t give it much thought. We had started brushing his teeth and gums 2-3 times per day around five months of age and it had never been a big deal. I was sort of proud that he actually seemed to like it. Then, toddlerhood hit. Suddenly, opinionated and independent, little guy’s favorite word is “self”. . . meaning, I will do it myself. He’s quite serious about it. This includes brushing his teeth. Of course we let him “try”. He sucks on the non-fluoridated toothpaste a little, and moves the toothbrush around a little, smiles, and then he’s done. And, I have talked with a lot of parents of toddlers who tell me the same. I advise them to try a washcloth with water, the “finger glove” toothbrush,or an age appropriate soft-bristle toothbrush and see which works best. Have a parent or sibling brush their teeth at the same time to encourage them. Distract them. Stand in front of a mirror. Sing. Say ahh. Let me tell you, we’ve tried them all. The finger toothbrush worked for a while, until he started resisting by chomping down and not letting go.
The other day I was going through some things and ran across the egg timer from the dentist. I figured out it is a two-minute egg timer. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. A two-minute timer. Have these people ever tried to brush the teeth of a toddler? At this point I’m lucky if I get one good swipe at each area in his mouth. And, I worry about it. I really do want him to have good dentition. So, after a bit of reading and thinking, here are a few tips for avoiding cavities and tooth loss in toddlers who resist brushing their teeth.
- Get rid of the bottle. Both the AAPD and the AAP recommend weaning from the bottle by one year of age. Carrying a bottle of milk (or worse, juice) around and sipping from it periodically exposes teeth to a constant sugar source. Kids should drink milk or water from a cup at mealtimes. In between meals, water is your best bet. No bottle propping or milk in bed.
- Get rid of the juice. There is really no need to give your toddler juice. And, definitely don’t give juice or soda in a bottle. Stick to whole fruits at snack/mealtimes and water in between.
- Minimize grazing and avoid sticky, starchy snacks. Try to stick to a feeding schedule and minimize between time snacking. Intermittent snacking increases the amount of time teeth are exposed to carbohydrate/sugar, which leads to increased risk of cavities.
- Give a fluoride supplement, if appropriate. Check with your dentist or pediatrician to determine if your water source has adequate fluoride to protect against caries. If not, your child may need a daily fluoride supplement.
- Brush with soft bristle brush and toothpaste 2-3 times daily. Non-fluoridated toothpaste is best until your child is able to spit, not swallow, the paste. I go for three times daily, figuring that we up our odds of getting at least one good brushing.
- Creative tips for brushing
- Allow them to brush first and then take turns.
- Create games (the toothbrush is searching for something, the toothbrush is tickling their teeth, etc).
- Brush while reading a book or singing a song. Pick a specific “tooth-brushing song”. When the song is over, they are done.
- Brush while counting. When you get to a certain number, they are done.
- Go to the store and allow them to pick out a “special” toothbrush with a color or character that they like.
- Have sibling or parent brush teeth at the same time.
- Stay positive and upbeat about it. Like all things toddler, the more they “have to do it”, the more they may resist.
Okay, readers, I’m all ears. Please send some more tips my way. How did you get a reluctant toddler to allow you to brush their teeth? When did you first take your kid to the dentist? Other thoughts on saving those pearly whites?