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If your toddler hates having his teeth brushed, he’s normal! How to keep teeth clean when your child fights you every step of the way.
It’s important to start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear, but as a general rule, babies and toddlers are not big fans of the experience. Here are some tips for making it easier:
- Start early and be consistent. If you start tooth cleaning twice a day with the first tooth nub you see, using a finger brush or washcloth, the baby will get used to it– much easier than trying to sell a toddler on the idea for the first time.
- ”Cheerful persistence” is what the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends. That means relax, get a big smile on your face, and keep trying, even if you have to wait a few minutes for your clammed-up child to say “ah.” Babies and toddlers can pick up on parent attitudes in a nanosecond, so don’t approach brushing by steeling yourself for a major battle: that ups the odds you might get one. But hey, if the kid is screaming, that does make it easier to get to the back teeth! Yes, a miserable kid is no fun for anyone, but keep in mind s/he’ll be a whole lot unhappier having to get a cavity filled. Eventually, with persistence and the realization that nothing horrible is going to happen, your child will get used to it.
- Ask your dentist or pediatrician about the use of fluoride toothpaste. Some pediatric dentists suggest no toothpaste at all for babies and toddlers under 2, the AAPD recommends brushing with a small smear of toothpaste with fluoride and no rinsing.
- Pick your tool. Some toddlers may be won over by a character toothbrush or an electric toothbrush. Or try a fingertip model or a washcloth wrapped around your finger with a dab of children’s paste.
- Use a mirror. Seat your child on your lap facing a mirror so he can see what you’re doing. Sing “ahhhh!” and open your mouth, and he just might imitate you long enough for you to slip a brush in.
- To entertain your toddler (and yourself), try making a game of naming everything he ate that day. “Now I’m brushing off some Cheerios, hey, there’s a peanut butter sandwich!”
- Find a kid-friendly dentist. Regular visits to a child-friendly dentist (or pedodentist) after the first year of age will help to get your child’s dental health off to a good start. Signs of a good practitioner: Play opportunities in the waiting room; a warm, and child-friendly staff; gentle work with no forcing; helpful responses to all questions; and special rewards for cooperating. (Children’s videos help, too!)
- And finally, beware sugars. One of the best ways to avoid cavities is to limit your child’s intake of juice, sweets and simple carbs. Dentists say crackers are actually worse for teeth than caramels, because the sugars dissolve in sweets but crackers can hang out in cracks between teeth for hours. So brush not just after candy, but after pasta, puffs and cereals, too.