We all want toddlers to have great looking teeth. We can’t determine the gene pool effect, but we can nurture nature to ensure the little ones get a helping hand with oral hygiene.
Some of the following ten tips are going to be easy, but we recognise there will be challenges too. Not least is the real-world dilemma of compromise, being a parent is often a merry-go-round of things still to do.
Caring for your toddler’s teeth
1. Supervise teeth cleaning
Supervise your child’s teeth brushing ideally up until they’re eight years old.
Until this time studies suggest, they do not have the manual dexterity to do the job by themselves. If you have an independent toddler, you might wish to let them have a go while you brush your teeth (toddlers love to mirror their parents or an older sibling) and then swap, so you have charge of the toothbrush for a good clean.
2. Spit, don’t rinse
Rinsing after brushing is generally not recommended. Get your toddler to spit and that way fluoride, the critical ingredient in toothpaste which helps to reduce dental decay, is preserved longer in the mouth.
3. Use toothpaste
Brush your toddler’s teeth as soon as they come through. Brush twice a day using a flat smear of fluoride toothpaste until they are three years old. After that, you’ll need a small pea-sized amount. It is recommended to brush last thing at night and at one other time during the day. Pick a brush which suits your child’s age.
4. Well done! Reward good brushing
Always reward good brushing. Positive reinforcement that is both specific and timely works wonders. Note: Positive reinforcement is very different from bribery. Bribery is a reward that is promised in advance of the event, for example, “If you brush your teeth, I will read you an extra story tonight,” whereas, with positive reinforcement, the reward is only mentioned after the good behaviour – “You were so good with your brushing tonight. Would you like a sticker for your chart?”
Try to get your child to stay still and keep their mouth open wide. Kids love stickers – they’re cheap, can be cool and any half decent craft rack will have them on display, and of course, the internet is awash with them.
5. Stop the bottle
From the age of six months begin to introduce a free-flow cup, to eliminate the bottle by the time your child is one. By far the best drinks for young children aged one to two are full-fat milk and water and from two years old, semi-skimmed milk and water. The worst thing possible for your toddler’s oral health is to put sugary drinks such as juice (including no added sugar squash which still contains sugars) or sweetened tea in a bottle. All you’ll achieve by doing this is bathing your child’s teeth in sugar.
6. Get in a comfortable position
When helping with cleaning teeth, it’s essential you are comfortable. You’ll need to see inside the mouth so perhaps sitting on your knee in a slightly reposed position would be best. A high chair or baby chair may also work well. By doing this you can also have direct eye contact with the child.
Try using small circles to brush the top and bottom teeth in turn, making sure to include the gums and the biting surfaces of molars which often trap food during chewing.
7. Examine your diet
Try to eat things your child could also safely enjoy. Watch the sugar contents of snacks and for that matter, some fruits.
Take care of giving dried fruits as a snack. The process of drying makes the sugar more concentrated and produces a sticky food which can stay on toddler’s teeth for hours. Fresh fruit is much less damaging.
8. Lose the dummy
Dummies are a personal preference, but if you do use one don’t ever be tempted to dip it in something sweet to get your child to take it.
Also, take care with prolonged dummy use. Over-use has the potential to cause something called anterior open bite where the teeth do not grow together, and a gap is left at the front of the mouth. You should also find it less traumatic to lose the dummy if you try before a real emotional attachment has formed around 18 months of age.
9. Work on eliminating the bedtime feed
In an ideal world bringing the bedtime feed forward by an hour after the age of one can help protect teeth. When we sleep, our mouths dry out, and we lose the protective effect of saliva. This is why eating in the hour before bed is a recipe for disaster. Although milk is a low sugar food, it can still cause damage if left to pool in the mouth overnight.
10. Remember, we’re human
Being a mum or a dad can be a tough job, and after a rough night with a nocturnal toddler, it is downright exhausting. Implementing change, especially with a strong-willed child involved, can try even the most patient of souls. Please be kind on yourself if things take a little longer than you had hoped, but try to make sure you are still heading in the right direction.