The birth of a child means a series of ongoing transitions for everyone in the family. There are transitions in titles and roles, becoming a mother or father, sister or brother or even grandparent. These types of transitions are monumental and from now on there will be a series of major milestones. Rolling over, crawling, walking, running . . . brushing teeth! Throughout these exciting changes, you watch in awe as your cuddly baby grows into a strong and brave kid. And through every milestone, Pediatric Dental Specialists is here to make sure your child has a happy, healthy smile.

One of the first exciting milestones is that first tooth (or multiple teeth coming in at once—yes, we understand your teething struggles). In your new role as a parent, it’s your job to make sure your child develops good habits to care for themselves. We know this isn’t always an easy job. In fact, getting your kid to happily go along with routine hygiene activities like brushing teeth can feel like, well, pulling teeth. Sometimes it can seem like each new milestone or transition brings new struggles. We want to make oral health care less of a struggle for you and your kids. Here are some tips to help your children learn to love brushing their teeth (and make your life easier).

Start Early

You can begin teaching your child about oral healthcare even before they’re old enough to brush. After each feeding, clean your infant’s gums by wiping a wet washcloth over their gums and gently massaging their gum tissue. This will wipe away any remaining sugars from milk and prevent decay. Massaging can help stimulate circulation and reduce teething pain. It’s especially important for your child to get used to the process of cleaning teeth and gums early. Once a tooth erupts, you can begin using a soft bristle toothbrush without toothpaste to brush the tooth.

We recommend cleaning your infant’s gums with a wet washcloth before bedtime. Also, do not give your baby milk after brushing. This is to avoid bottle rot, a disease caused by prolonged exposure to drinks that contain sugar, even milk. So whether your baby is formula fed, breastfed, or drinking cows’ milk, we recommend washing their mouth with water to prevent decay. When your baby is very young and requires frequent feedings, gently wiping her gums with water is a good habit to develop.

We recommend you take your child to their first dental visit by the time they are one year old or when they get their first tooth. In the meantime, here are some tips for baby wellness as well as some commonly asked questions.

Model the Behavior

Children learn by watching everyone around them, primarily the parents. The first time you realize your kid is talking or acting in the exact way you just did is kind of mind-blowing. But don’t feel intimidated; it just shows you have the power to help them shape good behaviors, like brushing their teeth!

Since kids are like sponges and absorb everything around them, show good oral hygiene habits while they’re watching. Keep a toothbrush in the bathroom for both you and your child. When it’s time to brush their teeth, you role play and brush your teeth, too. If they see you happily brushing, they’re much more likely to follow your example.

You can even take turns brushing each other’s teeth. Or demonstrate how to do it and then tell them to do the same thing. The more your child sees you doing the behavior you are requesting of them, the more they will want to do it. Remember, you’re the role model!

Make It Routine

Every family has a routine based on their schedules and what works for them. Routines help influence social, emotional, and cognitive development, as well as giving children a sense of security and stability. Use your routines during meal time, clean up, chores, and brushing teeth as teachable moments. Everything you do can be a learning experience. And the more you do it, the more it becomes routine and just part of what you do every day. This can help eliminate some push back if you develop tooth brushing as part of the routine early on.

Make It Exciting

We don’t expect your kid to get as excited about brushing their teeth as they do about going to the park or science museum, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be fun! Find some songs about brushing your teeth that they enjoy and will want to act out. Check out these songs recommended by The American Dental Association. What better way to encourage your kid to brush than seeing some of their favorite characters do the same thing? When it’s time to brush, tell your kid that now is the time of day we brush our teeth and start singing your brushing song. Head to the bathroom while dancing and singing, get the toothbrush and paste out, and begin your super-fun daily routine. Use a timer as a way to show it’s time to brush your teeth and let them see the countdown. When you’re done, let them know they did a great job!

Give Them Choices

Once your child enters the toddler stage, they begin to express more independence. Studies show that you can encourage them to develop ownership by providing choices. It can help with cooperation and make them feel like they are in control. You can let your kid have ownership over their choices by providing two options for things that are part of their routine. For example, let them decide between the red shirt and green shirt, apples or oranges for lunch, pink cup or blue cup, this book or that book, purple or yellow toothbrush. You get the idea. You still get them to do what you want, and they choose the way it’s done. It’s a win-win. Harness their behavioral development to teach them about self-care while encouraging independence.

Keep Your Cool

It doesn’t need to be perfect. Letting your kid learn on their own can be frustrating sometimes. Because it would just get done faster if you did it, right? Well, yes, but the whole purpose of this learning stage is to teach your kid to be an independent human—at least for basic functions like feeding, hygiene, and going to the bathroom—it’s not time to move out just yet! Make sure you demonstrate how to brush and the steps that are involved: put toothpaste on the toothbrush, move the toothbrush around to brush all of the teeth and tongue, and rinse the brush to wash off the toothpaste. Sure, they won’t get every nook and cranny and will probably make a mess, but just keep your cool and let them learn. If you get frustrated and upset, it will discourage them from doing it. Keep it positive and fun. Remember, you want this to be part of your regular daily routine. If your kid refuses to use toothpaste, continue to encourage it, but don’t make it a huge issue that leads to a meltdown. Getting them used to brushing is the most important thing right now.

Incorporate Brushing Into Playtime

Children learn through play, so you can teach them about brushing by incorporating it into playtime. Find a spare toothbrush to keep lying around for playtime. Encourage your kid to brush their stuffed animal’s teeth, baby doll’s teeth, even bath toys’ teeth. Read books about teeth and oral hygiene. Role play and let your kid brush your teeth. Pretend to be a dentist and talk about brushing teeth. The more they see the behavior modeled in everyday life, the more they will want to do it. Brushing teeth is pretty cool anyway!

Establishing healthy dental habits early in life is so important for a lifetime of healthy, happy smiles. At Pediatric Dental Specialists, we partner with parents to provide optimal oral health. You are an important factor in your child’s oral health, and we want to support you and your family in creating good habits. You can find great resources on our website and TV interviews, or contact us to schedule a consultation to discuss questions or concerns you may have.

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