Don’t you just love that time in the evening? Children all ready for bed and only their teeth to brush before you can tuck them in?
If you’re like most parents, you’ll be shaking your head at this point. Children fail to see the importance of good oral hygiene and would much rather be doing something else than spending two minutes rubbing toothpaste onto their teeth. But by making it fun with character toothbrushes and timer apps you can turn a fight into fun!
Why do we need to bother cleaning milk teeth?
Children should accompany you to the dentist as early as possible, which means many will have been at least once before their first tooth breaks through. Your dentist will advise that you should start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as they start erupting coming through. This is for two primary reasons:
- It introduces brushing into your daily regime which sets your child up for good habits in the future.
- Good oral hygiene ensures the permanent teeth erupt into the best possible environment so they will be better protected from damage and decay.
It’s important to know what’s best for your kids as they grow because as their teeth change so too should your their tooth brushing routine. There is an excellent guide to brushing junior teeth on the NHS website at https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/taking-care-of-childrens-teeth/.
Cleaning babies teeth
You will need to brush your baby’s teeth for them and should brush last thing before bed and at one other time during the day.
Choose a small-headed toothbrush, or alternatively a finger-brush which can help you feel more in control of where the brush is in your child’s mouth. Bristles should be soft, and the head rounded to protect delicate gums and cheeks. It is also possible to get rubber-bristle baby toothbrushes which are better at cleaning food from gums and stand up more to sucking and chewing. John Lewis and Boots stock specialist baby brushes.
When brushing your baby’s teeth you should only Use a tiny smear (size of a grain of rice according to kidshealth.org) of fluoride-containing toothpaste. Baby toothpastes often come in fruit flavours to make them more palatable so ensure that your baby does not try to eat the toothpaste. If you prefer, it is okay to use family toothpaste. Look for a fluoride concentration of between 1000ppm and 1500ppm.
Toothbrushing with toddlers
As toddlers and children get older and more independent, they start to want to brush their own teeth and may become reluctant to let you continue to brush their teeth for them. As teeth numbers increase so should the time spent brushing and the amount of paste you use. When all twenty milk teeth have come through (usually by the age of about 3 years old) your child should be using a small pea-sized blob of toothpaste. Brush for at least 2 minutes, before bed and at one other time during the day (most commonly after breakfast).
Choose a small headed brush to make moving it around in the mouth easier, and encourage your toddler to spit into the sink afterwards. Character toothbrushes make brushing fun and toothbrushes with flashing lights may encourage a reluctant brusher to keep going until the lights turn off.
Teaching your child to brush their own teeth
Once your child indicates that they want to try to brush their own teeth, you should encourage them to do so. Until they are five or six, they will be unlikely to make a thorough job so you may need to take a turn as well to ensure all teeth are brushed properly.
Keep using fluoride toothpaste with a concentration of between 1000ppm and 1500ppm. Some children’s toothbrushes have coloured bristles to indicate how much of the brush the paste should cover. Encourage spitting and don’t rinse out after brushing as the toothpaste needs time to work.
This is the perfect age to introduce an electric toothbrush too. Children get easily distracted and are unlikely to brush each tooth as evenly or as thoroughly with a manual toothbrush as with an electric toothbrush. Especially if you have an independent child who wants to do it themselves, a children’s battery-powered toothbrush can give you peace of mind that they have done at least a reasonable job. Follow ‘their turn’ by doing a quick clean once around their mouth at the end, to ensure that all inside and outside surfaces have been properly cleaned – again, this is easier with an electric brush.
Children may want to start choosing their own kids’ toothbrush. This is fine as long as they choose a brush with a small enough head that they can move it around freely. Most brands of children’s toothbrush come in different colours or with different characters which allows your child to have a choice while you can decide on the essential features.
Start teaching your child how to brush their teeth by holding their hand with yours so you can show them the correct movement. They will need to be taught that they don’t ‘brush’ with an electric toothbrush in the same way as with a manual toothbrush. Cleaning teeth in front of a mirror lets them see which teeth they are brushing so they can work their way around all of them.
A video is always a quick and memorable way of showing your child the best way to clean their teeth and why we bother. There’s a fun animated song here for toddlers, or a better explanation for kids aged 4-12 here. – or scroll to the bottom of the page to play.
When should you stop supervising?
Children under the age of seven should always be supervised, even once they are able to brush their own teeth. You can ensure that they brush all their teeth and keep brushing for the whole two minutes. An inexpensive sand timer can be used to show how long to keep brushing for, or there are apps that can be installed onto your phone that can be used instead. Novelty egg timers are also useful for toothbrushing and again, can make the teeth-cleaning chore into a fun activity your kids actually enjoy.
Many of the battery operated or electric kids toothbrushes come with a 2 minute timer built in which save any arguments about whether they have brushed for long enough. The Braun Oral-B Stages range offer a number of character branded toothbrushes of this type (available at Amazon).
Once you are confident that your child is responsible enough to brush their teeth properly, you no longer need to watch every session. You should remind them to brush as part of their bedtime routine, and at one other time during the day, such as just after getting up or before putting their shoes on for school.
Lots more information on brushing and keeping your children’s teeth healthy can be found on the useful Kidshealth.org website.
Types of brush
As children grow their brush requirements change. Babies need a very soft brush to protect their gums. Toddler brushes are a little larger, but still have very soft bristles and small heads. Brushes for children between 3 and 6 usually have chunky handles to make it easy for little hands to grab, while brushes for children between 6 and 12 often start to look like small adult brushes. Teenagers should use an adult brush, although smaller mouthed teens may find it more comfortable to stick with a child’s brush until their mouth has grown.
An electric toothbrush can be introduced from 3 years old, and manufacturers such as Oral-B make specific children’s models with bright colours and smaller heads. These should be used under supervision with a small blob of paste.
Most children’s brushes are made from the same nylon bristles and plastic although there are more environmentally options available, such as bamboo. The choice of features can be bewildering, so before you go shopping make sure you know what stage you are shopping for and check out some of the reviews on this site to help you narrow down your options.