February is Children’s Dental Health Month. I began to think of a blog article I’d like to write and you would like to read, I thought about a common struggle we can relate to as parents, and that is how to get our kids to brush their teeth. I’ll share with you my struggles and successes with my daughter Olivia who is 5 years old now.
You would think my wife and me both being Dentist in Little Rock would make our kid naturally want to brush their teeth. You’d be wrong! My kid is just like yours. She doesn’t want to brush her teeth either. It is like wrestling an octopus! Forcibly brushing her teeth isn’t the best option in the long run, although it did happen, we had to change our approach. We took it to the metal side of the game. We should be able to mentally outmaneuver a toddler, right?
There’s a concept in physiology call graduated exposure. This is the process of exposing the patient slowly and methodically to more and rawer aspects of those experiences. This helps build up and reinforce the lack of dire consequences that the person is usually imagining. Part of the key to this therapy is to allow the subject to have some control over the stimuli. Over time the subject begins to feel comfortable and not threatened by the object or stimuli.
It’s important to begin exposing your child to “brushing” as soon as you see primary teeth erupt. Usually, the lower incisors erupt around 6 months. We used our fingers or a warm washcloth to begin getting Olivia to use to foreign “toothbrush like” objects & textures being in her mouth. We would do this routine every morning or night. At first, she would only let us do this for a few seconds before the tears would flow and scream would start. Over time and with consistency we were able to do it without “much” resistance. We also exposed her to a toothbrush early. My wife found a rubber infant toothbrush in the form of a banana on Amazon. It proves you can find anything on Amazon! We let her chew on the rubbery bristles. At first, she would rather throw it on the floor than use it, but after giving it to her repeatedly she started to look at it as a toy.
At 1.5-2 years old, we let her choose a toothbrush. Purple and princesses theme seems to be a fan favorite at my house! Your child’s choice in the brush or the flavored toothpaste should go a long way to making morning and night time hygiene go smoother. It associates a positive experience to brushing because “I love my princess toothbrush” or “I love my Paw Patrol” toothbrush. Soft bristle toothbrushes are the best and easiest on the gums.
Don’t get frustrated if they won’t let you brush their teeth for very long. It isn’t about the length of time at first. It is about building the routine. You, as the parent, must commit to making this happen every night. I’m not going to lie, I use bribes! We’ve all used rewards for good behavior and it works well. Put a TV screen in front of my girl and the house would be on fire and she wouldn’t notice. I have used this to my advantage. Find out what gets the most corporations out of your child and build the routine around it. It takes time and commitment to make changes in your child’s life. It won’t happen overnight. Beginning a good habit now will bring your child a lifetime of great oral health!
If you’re struggling to get your kids on board with tooth brushing, try out our Family Dentistry Little Rock simple steps to make it more fun for them and easier for you.
Nathaniel Hill D.D.S.