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Question : It’s such a struggle to get my 3-year-old to brush his teeth every night! I’ve tried using one of those kid toothbrushes that are supposed to make brushing fun, but every night it’s the same tantrums and tears. Any tips on how to make the process easier?
Our Answer : Different children respond to different tactics, so you may need to experiment. Check out the ideas from other parents, below, or consider these tips: Toddlers love copying most everything their parents do, so it’s well worth it to make sure that one of those things is tooth brushing. Start by buying identically colored brushes for him and you.
Once your child is willing to put the toothbrush in his mouth, move on to the next step: letting him hold your brush and “brush” your teeth with it while you do a thorough job on his. If this ploy doesn’t work, don’t push it. As you’ve already discovered, you can’t force the toothbrush into your child’s mouth without hurting or at least scaring him.
1. Some popular toothbrushing tricks
Let your toddler climb up on a footstool (with you behind him for safety) so he can see himself in the bathroom mirror. As he stares at the reflection of the two of you, point to and count his teeth and yours. Then touch each tooth with the brush “to give it its share of toothpaste.” Use whatever toothpaste he likes most — this may have more to do with what’s on the tube than in it. No matter what kind he chooses, though, be careful to use only a tiny dab and store it in a place where he can’t help himself. It may also help to name each tooth as you attend to it so he’s persuaded that no single tooth should be left out. This will appeal to his sense of justice and help keep his mouth open when boredom looms.
No matter how you tackle toothbrushing, don’t assume that it’ll be easy — and don’t expect perfection. Few toddlers are consistently cooperative about getting their teeth brushed. What’s more, even if your child becomes positively enthusiastic about dental care and brushes his teeth with gusto, he lacks the manual dexterity to do a n effective brushing and cleaning session of his teeth. Teaching your toddler to take care of his teeth is just one way you can show your growing child how to take responsibility for his body. This can be a challenge because 3-year-olds are motivated mainly by fun and pleasure, not by health and necessity. If you want to end his resistance to brush, your best bet is to make this nightly chore a fun ritual for him.
2. Make the toothbrush a toy
Let him play with it. For example, show him how to brush his teddy bear’s “teeth”.
3. Play Show and Tell
While you are showing your child how to “play” with the toothbrush, tell him why tooth brushing is important. Say: “Sticky stuff collects on your teeth. The sugar bugs like the sticky stuff, and if they stay there long enough, they’ll eat into your teeth, and then your teeth won’t be strong and white.” If you have a cavity that’s filled, show it to him to reinforce this point.
4. Use your Finger as a Toothbrush
If he still doesn’t seem enthralled by his toothbrush, wrap a piece of gauze around your finger (you can actually purchase slip-on gauze pieces for this purpose) and use your finger to clean his teeth. Some toddlers find this less frightening than a long, plastic toothbrush. If you use toothpaste, choose one that has a flavor he likes.
A word of caution: If you choose a toothpaste with fluoride, as most dentists recommend, use only a pea-size dab no more than once a day. Many children this age will swallow toothpaste. As a preventative medicine, the mineral fluoride has a narrow risk/benefit ratio: Just the right amount of fluoride (via brushing) can help protect against tooth decay, but too much (via digestion) can contribute to weakened enamel.
5. When Nothing else will Work
Try the two-person technique to brush the teeth of our resistant toddler. Have your child lie on your lap with his head facing you, while your partner sits in front of you knee-to-knee, supporting your child’s body in his lap. Have your partner lean forward and hold your child’s arms and legs while you gently brush his teeth from above (a position that will give you easier access and a better view).
Your child will eventually catch on that brushing his teeth is a regular and necessary part of taking care of his whole body – and he’ll enjoy doing it.
Happy Parenting !