Teeth First! Teeth First!

Creating Healthy Brushing Habits: Advice From a Dental Hygienist

Written by: Cynthia Johnson CDA,RDH,BS,MA

“It‘s time to brush your teeth!”  This daily routine can be fun, yet challenging at the same time. 
Many parents and caregivers know how hard it can be to get kids to brush their teeth. Here are some ways that you can make daily brushing and flossing an easy and fun habit!
Dentists recommend that kids floss their teeth once and brush their teeth two times a day for two minutes each time. However, with toddlers, you have to find a routine that works best for you and your family. Aim to brush twice a day as long as possible up until two minutes and use floss in areas where the teeth touch each other. 
As a dental hygienist, I talk about brushing, flossing, and healthy eating habits every day with my patients and their caregivers. I find that every child is different. Sometimes I hear “he loves to brush” and other times I hear “it is so hard to get her to brush her teeth!”  

Start healthy habits early

Developing healthy dental habits takes time and patience, and it’s never too early to start. Even before you see the first tooth in your baby’s mouth, you can begin by wiping his or her gums with a clean, damp soft cloth. 
As soon as you see the first tooth come in, start brushing with a small smear of fluoride toothpaste. This should be done in the morning and at bedtime. 

Ways to make brushing more fun

Many parents and caregivers find it easier to clean a baby’s teeth while the child is laying down on a flat surface (like a changing table) or while the child is sitting in someone’s lap. As they move into the toddler stage, brushing can be done seated in the child’s favorite chair. 
Allow children to pick their own toothbrush and toothpaste at the store. Young children may enjoy picking out a toothbrush of their favorite cartoon character or super hero and it can help them become interested in brushing. 
Many young children will say that toothpaste is too “spicy” or “hot.” If the child does not like the flavor of the paste they may not want to brush. Luckily, there are many mild or fruit flavored fluoridated toothpastes to choose from.  
Some children also enjoy using an automatic or power toothbrush. There are toothbrushes that play music and others light up while the child is brushing. Try to choose a toothbrush your child will want to use. 
It is helpful for your child to choose where they want their teeth brushed. Some parents play music, turn on a favorite television show, or watch a tooth brushing video online. Check out 2min2x.org for lots of 2-minute videos. 
The great thing about tooth brushing is that it can be done anywhere! 

Different ways to help teach kids how to brush

There are many brushing techniques to choose from, and I always encourage a parent or caregiver to help children learn how to brush. We want kids to learn how to brush on their own, but watching them and helping them to brush is also important. Most children need help with brushing until about age 7 or 8 because they are not able to reach certain areas of their mouths. 
It can be hard to help with brushing if your child is independent and does not want help. If this is the case, allow your child to brush his or her teeth alone and then go over all the areas of the mouth with the child’s toothbrush to make sure no spots were missed. This allows the child to do the brushing by his or herself and gives you a chance to check the brushing afterward. You can also help by placing your hand over the child’s hand, allowing you to help guide the toothbrush and giving the child independence at the same time.
You can also model good brushing by having the child watch you brush your teeth and brush together. This way, the child sees you as a positive role model and can copy your actions. 
To reward kids for flossing once a day and brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, I suggest that parents keep a sticker chart. For each successful brushing experience, the child gets a sticker to put on the chart for a job well done. You can find a printable chart at 2min2x.org/downloads/brush-checklist.pdf.
Don’t be afraid to find creative ways to make brushing fun for your child. If you make it a positive experience and do the best you can, happy and healthy smiles will follow in return!
Guest Blogger - Cynthia Johnson CDA,RDH,BS,MA. Cynthia is a Registered Dental Hygienist who works at the Samuels Sinclair Dental Center at Rhode Island Hopsital.
TeethFirst! Creating healthy smiles for a lifetime.