Q: I have two children, ages 3 and 6. Brushing teeth is a battle every night with both of them. I know how important good dental hygiene is for young children. Do you have any tips on how to make brushing fun? – Samantha in Gilbert
A: The first step in the battle of the brush is to start early. Baby teeth typically come in at about 6-months-old and are immediately susceptible to decay. By 3-years-old, kids will have a full set of 20 primary teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends two minutes of brushing, twice daily for toddlers. However, one minute may be all that’s possible, and that is okay.
You aren’t alone in wanting to make this a fun routine. Teaching your children to take care of their teeth is a simple way to provide growing children with some responsibility and control over their own body. With that said, toddlers will be toddlers and motivated by pleasure. Here are several tips to turn this chore into a fun, daily routine:
Make it into a game » Make a weekly sticker chart with spaces for morning and evening brushings. Every time your child brushes for two minutes, they get to put a sticker on the chart. Or, play copycat. Have your child watch you brush your teeth. Be sure to exaggerate your excitement and with their toothbrush nearby, they’ll be likely to pick it up and mimic your behavior.
Use music » Play a favorite song for two minutes. When the music stops, so does the brushing. Or, sing the ABCs four times to help keep track of time. There are several videos online created just for this purpose as well. Pick a few and rotate them between morning and night or days of the week to keep the kids engaged.
Toothbrush as a toy » The ADA recommends child-size toothbrushes with soft or extra-soft bristles. Encourage your child to pick out his or her own or even just the color to get them excited about using it. You can even try letting them “play” with it by having them brush their favorite stuffed animal’s teeth. They’ll continue to familiarize themselves with the process and can even “teach” their plush pal how to brush.
Promote oral health throughout the day » Teach your children about different foods and how they will affect their teeth. Sugar gets stuck in the small cracks and crevices and the toothbrush helps clean it all out. Crunchy fruits and vegetables are healthy and fun to eat because they make different sounds when you bite into them. You’re always a role model so be sure to promote essential food groups and provide them with routine and structure for brushing.
Sometimes, these tips and tricks may just not be enough. If you’re still getting resistance try taking turns where you alternate brushing your teeth with them. At this age, kids are learning about sharing and how to take turns. This is a great opportunity to practice that skill. And if they just aren’t having it, try to just “play.” This way, kids are still staying in a routine.
There are many online resources including MouthHealthy.org where you can find additional tips, videos and facts about brushing. n
Laurie Clark is a registered dental hygienist with Chandler Regional Medical Center’s Early Childhood Oral Health Program, funded by First Things First (www.azftf.gov).