DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is the oral care specialist and dental consultant to the Brilliant and Baby Buddy oral care lines through Compac Industries. See terms below.
Oral care for babies and toddlers doesn’t have to be a struggle, but sometimes it just is, and that’s OK. Long days followed by even longer nights can wear down patience, planning and purpose of the most intentioned parents. Honestly, nothing is struggle free in life, and tooth brushing a wiggly 2 year old is no different. Keep expectations real and do the best you can, and know how to pick and choose your battles.
A big question asked by parents a lot is what type of brush is best for my child.
- Electric toothbrushes,
- Manual toothbrushes,
- Character designs,
- Light up units,
- Ones that spin or rotate,
- Rainbow colors
- Even recycled natural bamboo fiber brushes are an option.
Sometimes the best toothbrush for kids is the brightest, most colorful and sparkly one you can find, and other times it is the simplest, most comfortable, plain one that just gets the job done. Having both on hand is a great strategy, that way if you have a really cranky and tired little person on your hands you don’t have to stimulate them with the buzzing and lights or the sounds an electric toothbrush can make, you can simply reach for the manual brush and get the job done.
When Should Oral Care start
Oral care should start when your child is an infant. Preferably within the first month of life. Parents should start a routine of wiping baby gums with a sterile mouth tissue or oral wipe, at least once a day. This not only enforces the normal routine of oral care very early, but it actually cleans and removes bacteria from the mouth, keeping a healthy oral environment and limiting the build up of milk residue.
Dental research shows that when oral care starts that early, kids are much less resistant to tooth brushing later on because the routine has been established. Now, there will still be times when they struggle or resist, but overall, there is much less occurrence of that happening.
If you didn’t quite start oral care that early, don’t worry, start wherever you are. Once teeth start to come in they need to be brushed with a bristle toothbrush. Adults should perform ALL the oral care for their children until the age of 5, thereafter directly supervising their children doing independent brushing and checking for effective results.
Children don’t acquire the grip strength or dexterity to effectively brush their own teeth, by themselves, until the age of at least 5 and sometimes much later than that. As a rule to help you gage ability, when a child can tie their own shoes, they most likely have the skills necessary to explore more independence in brushing their own teeth. Click here to get the answers of frequently asked questions about oral health for children.
How to brush Toddler Teeth
Have the right tools for your child’s mouth. If you can, get 2 different styles of toothbrush to choose from. I tend to have a fun and stimulating electric toothbrush and a regular manual toothbrush available. The electric toothbrushes tend to clean better, but can be a challenge to adapt to, so have a manual toothbrush to use as well.
- Make the habit of brushing in the bathroom. If this wont work, read the secondary option at the end of this article.
- Wet the brush with warm water, and use a smidge of paste or gel, but be sure that it is NOT spicy or overly sweet. Sometimes kids resist toothbrushing because the toothpaste is the problem and not the toothbrushing.
- Have your toddler face the mirror while you stand behind them, so they can see what you are doing, or sit down on the seat and have them in your lap with their head resting against your chest.
- Start brushing in the back of the mouth first, be sure to not force the brush in their mouth. If they resist, brush the front teeth first, gently working your way to the back of the mouth.
- If they put their hands up to pull or push you away, place their hands over your hand as you are brushing. This allows them to feel like they have some control over what is happening.
- Sing a fun song, do a countdown for a rocket ship launch, name each tooth something silly as you brush it, like to the tune of the little piggy song, or include any other fun activities your child may need to stay on task for the 1-2 minutes it will take to fully brush them.
- SECONDARY OPTION: If the routine above is not working then another option dentists sometimes recommend is to brush your child’s teeth while you are sitting on the ground or a bed, while your child’s head is in your lap. I don’t like this method honestly and only recommend it when all else has failed. This is a vulnerable position to lay in and for little kids it makes them feel like they have no control over what is happening to them, in turn causing more resistance. This also makes it harder to brush train them later because they have been removed from the visual learning that happens when they can watch what you are doing.
Below I’ve outlined some little “golden nugget treasures” for tooth brushing success that I have had great triumph in utilizing over the years.
Stickers: It seems so simple and it really is honestly. Never underestimate the power of a sticker board. It’s all about the praise and accolades. A cute little sticker chart that tracks daily Tooth brushing is an excellent thing to keep track of to encourage compliance and repetition.
Once a week’s worth of brushing, twice a day, everyday, has been tracked, provide a special prize to commemorate the week and then start all over again.
- Make it into a game: Music and singing almost always work. Frozen was a BIG DEAL in my house, so singing “Let it go” while brushing my toddler’s teeth just made her smile, laugh and open wider which made brushing her really easy, and I would change the words to songs to make it even more fun… “Let it go, Let it go, Let me brush, every tooth I know…..Let it go, Let it go, then get a new sticker for your row!” You get the idea, it really does work too.
- Get Techy with it: If you don’t mind spending a few fun dollars, head out and grab the latest fun electric toothbrush designed for your child’s age range. Some have buzzers, timers, flashing LED lights, characters, some even play musical tunes and talk to you. Some really snazzy models can be connected to the Bluetooth setting on your phone and with apps that literally turn brushing into games with success trackers and virtual stickers. (There’s those fun stickers again).
Treasure Chests: Some people don’t like rewarding behavior that needs to be learned for life, hygiene, and discipline with actual “rewards”, and I totally get that. I however, am not one of those people. After a long stretch of being disciplined myself with my clean eating diet and regular exercise, I like to reward myself with something delicious, delectable, and usually sweet. I look forward to it and it keeps me focused and disciplined throughout my week. Kids usually operate the same way.
Dental offices implement this as well and it works well to motivate kids to comply through an entire appointment. Let them decorate a shoebox or wooden art box and then fill it with fun non food items. No candy or suckers. Go to the party supply store or the dollar bin at your local shopping outlet.
Then choose when they get to pull a prize from the chest. Maybe it’s once a week, maybe it’s only for those more difficult times when they don’t want to brush but they triumph through, maybe it’s when you introduce something new like flossing, or a new electric toothbrush, really you can customize any system that will work for your child.
The most important thing to remember is that you will have struggles and that is OK. As soon as you get one routine down, I can almost guarantee you that it will soon change or get interrupted by something else. Kids are changing and growing, and as that happens, their routines will change and grow too. Just remember that there can possibly be seasons where there are colds and fevers to care for, new diet restrictions or allergies, new siblings to get use to, a new home or new family member, oral ulcers or pain, the losing of baby teeth and getting new adult teeth, oral trauma from a fall or sports injury, even just the process of starting preschool or grade school can suddenly change how well your child does or doesn’t adapt to home care routines. Keep calm, Keep going, and Keep Brushing.
From toddlers to adults, Brilliant has a solution to provide you with a lifetime of smiles. Both our manual and sonic toothbrushes feature all-around bristles to remove twice as much plaque as a flat toothbrush. At Brilliant Oral Care, we strive to offer lifetime care for Baby Gums through Seniors Gums with products that encourage a lifetime of healthy smiles. Brilliant Toothbrushes have a round head featuring all around bristles to offer an unparalleled cleaning of teeth, tongues, gums, and cheeks, without the sharp bristles that far too many have had to endure.
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This article is intended to provide an understanding of and knowledge about “oral health topics” as expressed through the perspective and experience of the author. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or counsel, including the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, an oral condition, illness or treatment of any listed or non listed situation above. By using this site, you signify your assent to our Terms and Conditions. If you do not agree to all of these Terms and Conditions, do not use this site.
Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.