Your child’s teeth are probably the last thing in your mind when it comes to parenting.
That is until you wind up in the pediatric dentist’s office and hear that your barely three-year-old has a cavity that needs to be taken care of!
If you think watching your child get their shots is difficult, getting a cavity filled is a whole new level of toddler terror, and so the mom guilt ensues because there were precautions to take to prevent this from ever developing in the first place!
Thankfully, I haven’t gotten that dreaded news, BUT I know so many parents that have and they would oftentimes share their experiences and how they have shaped the way they parent.
Like why they don’t let their babies eat certain foods or drink juices or why they brush their baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste (eek! we’re still on training, fluoride-free toothpaste because my baby literally EATS the toothpaste!).
As a first-time mom, I would often think it was a bit excessive, but as my little girl started to get her teeth and we started to visit her dentist, the gravity of the concern began to really set in.
I DID NOT want my child to have a cavity so early on in her life (and be traumatized by the dental treatment!) and therefore I was going to do all that I could to prevent it from developing.
So out of my panic ensued research on how to prevent this from happening, and I’m sure this is information other moms would value so here it is nicely wrapped up in a super informative post (I know you’ll find it useful!).
Get out your mental notepad because you will want to remember these!
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Disclosure: I have included affiliate links to products that I have used and enjoyed. These are for your convenience. I do receive compensation without any increase to your own price.
Why Early Dental Hygiene is So Important!
We all know that taking care of your teeth is an essential part of your overall health and wellness.
The earlier you begin taking care of your teeth, the brighter your dental future!
This is why it is so important to start considering your baby’s teeth as soon as they’re born.
Early Dental Care Sets Up Their Dental Future
By starting early you’re reinforcing future dental habits which have a higher likelihood of being established at a young age.
That’s good news all around since dental care prevents dental disease and that means better teeth for your kiddo and less stress and spendings for you in the future!
Neglecting your child’s teeth is only a recipe for disaster since it will increase the need for early dental treatments.
We all have some sort of experience with how uncomfortable dental intervention (especially cavity fillings!) can be, so it is no surprise that the earlier those treatments are the greater the chances for dentophobia, or the intense fear of the dentist, to develop in your child if the experience is traumatic enough.
This will only make future dental visits more difficult and complicated when instead your child could instead be looking forward to dental visits (because they’re the funnest places!) while enjoying the benefits of having healthy pearly whites!
Cavities and Toddlers
Tooth decay, or dental caries, is the most common childhood disease according to the CDC, and what’s shocking is that by the age of 4 more than 1 in every 4 children has had at least one cavity (1)!
Cavities are caused by acidic plaque produced by bacteria found in the mouth.
This plaque is able to break down tooth enamel and, if not stopped, can makes its way all the way to the tooth’s nerves causing decay.
Tooth decay is very painful and, if the tooth must be removed prematurely, extremely detrimental to the alignment of teeth (2).
And, I know with how common they are I don’t even need to explain how painful getting fillers to treat cavities is.
All of the consequences of poor dental hygiene are uncomfortable and costly which is why cavity prevention is super important!
Trust me, I’m on the same page as all of you mommas, I’m literally freaking out while writing this because I hadn’t thought about this too much early on and I feel like I’ve already made so much mistakes.
However, it’s never too late to start taking your baby’s/toddler’s teeth seriously.
Here are some ways you could prevent your toddler from getting those cavities in the first place.
How to prevent your toddler from getting cavities…
1. Breastfeed! (If You Can..)
I had to add in that second part because I understand how difficult breastfeeding is (just read my story) and how it might not be possible for everybody.
With that said, though, if you can, do it!
There are LOADS of benefits to breastfeeding for both baby..
… and mom!
One of those benefits (not shown in the infographic above) is cavity prevention, though the reason is really indirect.
Breastfeeding usually means your baby isn’t drinking from a bottle, which is the main culprit of “baby bottle tooth decay”.
This is largely connected with night feeding sessions when baby has a bottle of milk to fall asleep, usually leaving a pool of sugar-loaded milk resting on those vulnerable gums/teeth through the night.
Now although breastfeeding has lots of benefits, when it comes to oral health, it only protects your baby’s teeth against cavities up until they are two.
A study has actually shown that breastfeeding past the age of two has been shown to in fact INCREASE the coincidence of cavities.
Children that nursed two years or longer were 2.4 times as likely to have severe cavities than those that nursed only up to a year (3)!
So just be mindful of that as well!
2. Start Caring For Their Teeth When They’re A Baby
Ok, so I know I said that it’s never too late for this and it’s not, but if you are reading this early on then start before the teeth even come out!
After every feeding, try to ‘brush’ your baby’s gums by running over them gently with a clean, damp washcloth (MAM has a cute, convenient Rabbit Microfiber Cleaning Cloth).
This will work to remove any harmful bacteria that may have accumulated there and prevent plaque buildup which can damage your baby’s teeth when they do start to come it (4).
You could take it one step further and purchase some Baby-Safe Xylitol Gum Bamboo Wipes and actually prevent the growth any cavity-causing bacteria and remove any plaque build-up and residue that may be found in your baby’s mouth post-feeding.
The Cleaning Cloth and the Gum Wipes could be used from birth, but once your baby reaches 3 months you could also introduce a Gum Brush into the mix and both clean and massage your baby’s gums, prepping and caring for them through teething!
Also, remember, the most important times to clean your baby’s gums is after feedings and before bed time, just as it would be when brushing.
3. Ditch Using The Bottle To Put Your Baby To Sleep
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is one of the biggest culprits of pediatric dental issues.
I will admit that when my baby bottle fed I too gave in to this temptation and fed my baby girl to sleep.
The problem with this is that as your baby dozes off to sleep, a pool of milk will usually collect in your baby’s mouth, leaving vulnerable gums and baby teeth to be colonized by cavity-producing bacteria
To avoid this without completely changing up your bed time routine, make sure to take your baby out of their crib and to hold them while feeding them their pre-bedtime bottle (5).
This will allow you to promptly remove them bottle from their mouth once they’re asleep (which is what you should be doing) and clean their mouth before placing them back into their crib for the night.
There is always the temptation to prop up the bottle to avoid having to hold it while your baby feeds and dozes off to bed, however, this should also be avoided since not only does this contribute to future tooth decay and similar dental issues (you don’t remove the bottle in time so a milk pool forms), it also increases your baby’s liklihood of getting an ear infection and also potentially choking (5)!
The risks are definitely not worth the benefit of having free hands for that short period of time!
4. Start Brushing Their Teeth As Soon As They Come Out
Once your baby’s teeth start poking out, it’s important to start brushing them!
Those first teeth are the predecessors to your baby’s smile which is why taking care of them is so important!
Just like brushing their gums, brushing their teeth removes as plaque buildup and prevents the harboring of harmful bacteria that can cause cavities.
Remember, cavities are destructive and if your baby loses their teeth too early it can also cause a load of dental and orthodontic issues down the road!
Here’s how to correctly brush your baby’s/toddler’s teeth (6):
1. Apply the paste.
4+ Months: You can just use water
12+ Months (or earlier): Attempt to introduce smear of Toddler-Training Toothpaste (great organic and safe brand of toothpaste that is totally safe even if swallowed) to get your toddler used to paste.
18+ Months: Introduce a smear (take note as this will be discussed in the next tip!) of Fluoride Toothpaste (<– seriously love this brand!)
2. Get into position.
Have your baby/toddler sit or lay in your lap, faced away from you.
Then, tilt their head back until you are able to see all of their teeth.
Start with the outer surfaces of the gums/teeth and brush them in circles.
Then, move your way into the mouth and brush the inner surfaces of the gums/teeth in a circular motion.
Finally, brush back and forth over the top surfaces of gums/teeth.
4+ Months: During the teething phase it’s great to utilize teether’s with soft bristles to get your baby practicing brushing earlier. You could try this h-Shaped Teether Brush or this Popular Silicone Banana Teething Brush.
12+ Months: Find a Soft Bristle BPA-free Toothbrush that works with your toddler. They even have the option of an Electric Toddler Toothbrush if that’s something that your toddler might find more interesting. My toddler will only use this one; it comes with a conveniently built-in 2 minute timer!
Remember to replace your toddler’s brush every 3-4 months!
6. Encourage spitting.
After you have finished brushing your toddler’s teeth, encourage them to spit out the toothpaste.
It might take some time before your toddler understands the concept, but keep at it after every session even if they don’t just so that they understand that there is a final step to brushing.
Pediatric dentists recommend brushing twice a day, once after breakfast (so if you brush frist thing in the morning, you must do another round of brushing!) and once before bedtime, for at least two minutes (5).
Your baby’s teeth will be in pristine condition if you choose to brush their teeth after every meal, but that’s not necessary.
Just make sure to start brushing their teeth as early as possible in order to establish the habit because otherwise it will be a lot more difficult to implement brushing their teeth when they’re toddlers!
￼5. It’s Recommended to Brush With Fluoride (But That’s Arguable..)
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that you brush your baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as their teeth come in (7).
However, since fluoride can be toxic if consumed in significant amounts and since babies like to eat toothpaste, many parents actually avoid brushing their baby’s teeth with fluoride.
I too refused to brush my toddler’s teeth with fluoride for that very reason, and instead opted for fluoride-free alternatives.
However, it turns out that there is a good reason as to why fluoride is required to actually yield preventative results.
Fluoride has been known to strengthen and rebuild enamel and prevent and even reverse tooth decay (7).
Brushing is super effective for cavity prevention, and adding fluoride can help even more (although some dentists beg to differ, so this is definitely a hot topic!).
The dilemma is that fluoride is obtained from a number of sources including water (even bottled!), fruits and vegetables, cereals, and infant formula, among others, so using fluoride toothpaste might actually be excessive (8)!
So that is why I say ‘arguable’.
Talk to your pediatric dentist, do your research (read what critics, other dentists, have to say), and make the choice you see is best for your children.
Going on with the fluoride toothpaste, how do you make sure your child gets the protection the fluoride offers without risking poisoning?
Well, there’s a lot of misconception about how much toothpaste you should be using in order to guarantee the effectiveness of the fluoride.
The recommended amount of fluoridated toothpaste by the ADA for children younger than 3 is no larger than a smear/size of a grain of rice, however, I personally have been told by many medical professionals that I should be using a “pea-sized” amount (which is actually recommended for children 3 to 6 years of age) (7).
There’s a big difference between a smear and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste!
Having a toddler that consumes (I’m not even exaggerating) all the toothpaste on the brush, I would definitely prefer the lowest dose of fluoride acceptable!
If fluoride is something that bugs you, something I would do is brush my toddler’s teeth with fluoride-free toothpaste (or you could even do water, although the toothpaste does do a better job of prepping your baby for the paste) and afterwards I would make a diluted smear of children’s fluoride toothpaste (just like you would do on the toothbrush) and just rub it onto her teeth.
The reason was because I would allow my toddler to continue brushing her teeth on her own once I was finished and, like I already mentioned, she loves to literally suck all of the paste out of the brush, so this was the only way for me to reap some of the fluoride benefits and allow her to practice brushing on her own without allowing her to swallow all of the fluoride.
It’s also a great way to get her to start learning how to spit after brushing before she really needs to.
If you could get your baby to brush with fluoride, then that would probably be the better alternative.
I will also add that if you use a smear sized amount of fluroide tooth paste then it’s safe (according to some dentists) even if your baby does eat the toothpaste, so it’s totally up to you!
6. Don’t Lick The Pacifier Once Their Teeth Are In!
This is a split camp and I realize not many parents actually do this now.
I did (don’t hate!).
It has actually been proven that your baby can benefit, to an extent, from being exposed to your mouth fluora (9).
Babies whose parents cleaned their pacifiers with their mouths were less likely to have allergies like ecsema and asthma!
So, I knew this and that is why I chose to lick my baby’s pacifier.
What I hadn’t heard yet was that, just like you could transfer good bacteria, you could also transfer cavity causing bacteria and actually give your baby a cavity that way.
The ADA followed up the study’s findings by warning that although there are benefits, the risks are far greater (10).
Cavity-causing bacteria like Streptococcus mutans can be transfered from parents (moms more likely than dads) to their children via pacifier licking (10).
As soon as your baby’s teeth come through and are exposed to this bacteria, they are extremely susceptible to decay (10)!
To stay on the safe side, it is best to avoid the licking overall.
If you do want your baby’s immume system to reap the benefits of pacifier licking, make sure to stop the practice once there teeth start coming in.
7. … Or Prechew Their Food.. Or Kiss Them On The Lips!
If licking a pacifier can transfer cavity causing bacteria to your baby, then that means anything else that can transfer your saliva to baby should also be avoided once the teeth come in.
This includes prechewing and blowing on your baby’s food, using the same utensils and cups, and even kissing your baby/toddler on the lips (11)!
All of these can get this infectious bacteria into your baby’s mouth, and if allowed to colonize, can wreak havoc in your baby’s mouth even once the permanent teeth are in (11)!
Of course, pediatric dentists recognize that it’s nearly impossible to avoid all saliva transfer, that is why there are ways you can reduce the liklihood of infection (apart from brushing often) even if there is some exposure.
1. Wipe Your Baby’s Mouth With A Clean Wash Cloth From Birth.
Wiping/cleaning your baby’s mouth from the stages of early infancy until the teeth come in prevents any type of bacteria colonization in your baby’s mouth (11).
Just make sure to use a sterile wash cloth each time or opt for these convenient and safe Xylitol Bamboo Gum Wipes.
2. Chew Xylitol Gum!
Xylitol has been known to prevent cavities by inhibiting the growth and colonization of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth (12).
Studies have shown that children whose mothers chewed Xylitol from the sixth month of pregnancy showed reduced liklihood of this bacterial colonization (11).
This is especially recommended if you are “decay-active”, or have cavities, during your pregnancy!
For it to be effective, one must chew at least 3-5 pieces of Xylitol gum/mint per day for at least 5 minutes at a time (12).
That’s a lot of gum!
A popular Xylitol gum brand is Spry, you can find it here.
You can buy a case of 1200, so you’ll be good throughout your entire pregnancy!
3. Maintain Good Overall Family Oral Health!
This is really the best way to reduce the liklihood of cavities for your growing baby/toddler!
Making sure that your family is up to date with semi-annual dental check ups, getting treatment for any dental issues that may come up, and brushing and flossing at least twice daily, reduces the liklihood of having cavity-causing bacteria infected saliva in the first place.
So, take it seriously!
You all will benefit from this as much as your baby/toddler will!
8. Upgrade To A Regular Cup As Soon As You Can!
Sippy cups like bottles can and are used by many toddlers as soothers/pacifiers.
Your child may drink from their bottle or sippy cup for often and/or for long periods at a time, leaving the teeth constantly coated in any sugars that may be found in the liquid they are drinking (13).
Acid-producing (or cavity-causing) bacteria then has the opportunity to convert the sugars into acids that break down tooth enamel and initiate the decay process (13).
Drinking from a regular cup reduces the chances of liquid collecting around the teeth as there is no sucking involved (no soothing association means less exposure), and, better yet, cups can’t be taken to bed either (no ‘pooling’)!
Although the sucking can affect teeth alignment in the future, the main issue with bottles and sippy cups, when talking about cavity prevention specifically, is when your child drinks anything other than just plain water.. which leads right into the next point!
9. Avoid Sugary Drinks. Milk Is Good. Water Is Best!
As I mentioned earlier, the bacteria that cause cavities/decay do so by converting sugars found in the mouth into enamel destroying acid.
Consuming anything that contains natural or artificial sugars, even fruits, can leave collections of residual sugars around the teeth.
Liquids that contain sugars range from formula and milk to juice/diluted juice and soft drinks and even sugar water.
When it comes to beverages, the only safe route is drinking plain, sugar-free water.
Sure milk and formula are much better, healthier alternatives to any type of juice or sweet drink, however, they still contain sugars.
This is why it is best to offer milk/formula during meal times and transition to water only between meals.
Sippy cups, if still used, also should only be filled with water.
If you do choose to offer juice (be sure to only opt for 100% fruit juice), because it does seem harsh to completely prohibit all sugars, try to stick by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommended daily limits (13).
The AAP doesn’t recommend giving any juice to babies younger than 6 months.
Babies between 6 and 12 months should be limited to no more than 4 ounces of diluted juice (half juice, half water), per day.
Children between 1 and 6 years of age should be limited to no more than 6 ounces of juice per day.
A sure way of reducing acid production when drinking sugary drinks is to brush teeth after, and it should be encouraged whenever possible.
10. Avoid/Limit Sugary/Sticky/Starchy Snacks And Foods
Just as with drinks, foods that contain large quantities of sugar should also be limited.
The worst of these, though, is sticky sugary foods and snacks as they they tend to stick to your teeth making them even more likely to cause teeth decay as there is a much higher likelihood acid byproduct will begin to break down that tooth’s enamel.
Snacks that fall into this category include things such as gummy snacks, granola bars, dried fruits, cookies, cup cakes, and donuts.
Starchy foods like chips and breads should also be limited throughout the day as they have the same potential of leaving behind a lot of build up of sugars in the mouth as starch is converted to sugar once consumed (14).
Make sure to take extra care of your child’s teeth with brushing sessions when these types of foods are consumed.
Low risk snacks (contain sugars just not as much and not as sticky) to opt for instead include foods such as cheese, pretzels, crackers, peanut butter, nuts, fruits, and veggies (14).
11. Introduce Flossing Once Their Teeth Begin To Touch
Once your baby’s teeth start to touch, it’s a good idea to include flossing in the post-breakfast and bedtime routines.
Touching teeth means that there is a greater likelihood of food getting stuck in between the gaps.
Stuck food, like sticky food, becomes a great localized food source for acid-producing bacteria.
I understand that just as with brushing, flossing may also be challenging.
What I could works well is using floss picks instead of the entire floss thread.
My daughter enjoys them so much that she asks for them herself!
These are the specific floss picks that we use.
My husband has specific preferences when it comes to floss picks, he prefers the thin, tough strings versus the silky ones since they’re better at getting food out from tough spaces.
The only issue with these (and many of these type of floss picks) is that the other end can be folded into a tooth pick, however, the act of folding hasn’t been figured out by my toddler so we haven’t had any problems with that.
If you worry about this, though, you can opt for Soft Picks instead.
Parental supervision is always required with any type of flossing stick!
12. Schedule Them In For A Pediatric Dental Check-Up By The Time They Are 1 And No Later Than 2!
Pediatric dentists recommend bringing in your child for a check up as soon as the first teeth erupt which is usually around the 6 month mark.
Now I have yet to run into a parent that really takes this recommendation to heart, sadly.
Many parents actually bring in their children after they turn two (some even later!).
The latest that pediatric dentists hope that you will bring in your child for their first check is before their second birthday.
The biggest reason for this is prevention.
Since dental issues are so common in young children, having parents informed about risks and things they need to avoid can help mitigate the potential problems.
It’s awesome that you are reading this post as this is actually most of the information that your dentist will reiterate to you during your child’s first check up, so you’re already getting a head start in prevention!
Another benefit of coming in earlier is that your child gets introduced to the dentist and is able to establish a positive association between their teeth and cleaning/brushing.
Just make sure to do you research to find a good dentist with an office that is aimed at entertaining kids (the office pictured above looks very similar to the one I visited as a child, doesn’t it look amazing?!).
I remember myself in that I really enjoyed going to the dentist because of all the toys and activities, and best of all I loved that fact that I got to watch my favorite movies while my teeth were cleaned!
You may want to really take advantage of this type of environment if future dental visits are something you worry about, I mean who doesn’t want their kids excited to visit the dentist?!
Finally, the dentist will be able to start cleaning and caring for your child’s teeth and giving you tips on how you can do so at home more effectively.
Brushing and flossing are really the most important aspects of your child’s cavity prevention program and doing both correctly is what will actually help to protect your child’s teeth.
Remember, pediatric dentists have a lot of knowledge and experience when it comes to the care of little teeth so use them, they are an incredible resource!
Things like early detection and treatment are also a huge benefits of seeing the dentist early, but hopefully you won’t need to worry about these since you’ll be on top of implementing preventative methods (right?)!
What If My Toddler Hates Brushing Their Teeth?
We just read about how important brushing teeth is to the prevention of cavities, but what if your child hates brushing their teeth?
What if it’s a battle everytime you reach for the tooth brush?
How are you supposed to brush for two whole minutes when you can’t even keep the tooth brush in their mouth for two seconds?
Well, that does make prevention a lot more complicated.
My toddler hates brushing her teeth, so I’ll admit that even we still have days in which we struggle with this.
However, things have been getting much better and implementing a strategy is what really helps to make it work.
So, if you’re in the same boat, here are some tips for getting your toddler to brush their teeth!
Tips For Getting Your Toddler To Brush Their Teeth
1. Buy A Toothbrush Similar To Yours
Toddlers are great imitators and utlizing their desire to copy is something to take advantage of when brushing becomes a battle.
One way you can have them do this is by purchasing a toothbrush that is very similar to yours whether it be by color or mechanism.
The first toothbrush I purchased for my daughter was a regular starter tooth brush that was pink, the problem was that I had a blue toothbrush that was electric.
So while mine buzzed, hers remained silent.
There was no way she would agree that her brushing was the same thing as me brushing.
So, my search for an automatic blue toothbrush began and thankfully it didn’t last too long since I immediately found a similar electric toddler’s toothbrush in blue!
It was much easier to talk her into brushing once we made the switch!
If your toddler is anything like mine, maybe it won’t hurt to do a little thorough searching for a toothbrush that is very similar to yours, and you both can practice brushing together!
2. Have Them Watch Older Kids (Or You) Do It!
Piggy backing on that last statement here, but maybe what your todder really needs is some company!
Sure, you still need to be the one brushing their teeth (unless you can have someone else help with the brushing), however, having your toddler watch the act really does help them realize that it’s totally normal and everyone does it.
I want to point out that in our case, having my toddler watch my husband and I brush our teeth only made her want to brush her own teeth even more.
She wouldn’t let us brush her teeth, which really defeats the purpose of brushing because for it to be effective it needs to be done right, and the way toddlers brush is far from that.
Now, watching other parents brush the teeth of older children worked like a charm, so if you have an older child that you can use as an example or if you have friends with older children then having your toddler watch them be comfortable with someone brushing their teeth can really ease the power struggle.
If that’s not an option for your then maybe you or your partner can brush each other’s teeth before attempting to brush your child’s teeth.
It seems like a hassle, but if you’re desperate and you don’t want to have to force your toddler down everytime it’s time to brush their teeth then it’s worth a shot!
The goal is cooperation.
3. Give Them Options
The best way to get your toddler to do something you want them to do is by getting them to make that choice themselves.
Toddlers want to feel like they’re in control of the situation.
They’re discovering their independence and a part of that means making independent decisions.
Most of the time those independent decisions are the opposite of your requests.
Disobedience is their expression and cry for autonomy, so instead of participating in what is bound to be a power struggle ending in a tantrum, utilize it to your advantage by still allowing your child to feel in control.
How do you do that?
Well, instead of telling them what to do or even asking them to do something (to which they can immediately decline and that will be the end of that), give them choices based on what they CAN do.
So, it’s not just..
“Let’s brush our teeth?”
“Momma is going to brush your teeth now.”
“Would you like momma to brush her teeth first or would you like momma to brush your teeth first?”
“We’re gonna brush our teeth, would you like to use Toothpaste A or Toothpaste B?”
The options you give can be anything from the order in which you brush, to how you brush (what tooth brush or paste you use), to where you brush.
Since your toddler will be in different moods each day, offering a wide range of options allows you to reach a compromise regardless of the changes in your toddler’s day-to-day preferences.
4. Let Them Feel Grown Up
Cultivating your toddler’s autonomy versus fighting it also means allowing them to do more than just make choices.
It also means letting them feel like they are “grown-up”.
Some ways you can do this is by giving them the ability to independently get up to the sink with a sturdy step stool with handles, to get to put the tooth paste on their brush (be mindful, though, to subtly remove the excess toothpaste), and to reach the running water with a sink extender with handle.
Sure you will still need to be strategic in getting them to actually let you brush their teeth, but there’s no harm in allowing them to brush for a little by themselves (with your supervision if you’re using fluoride toothpaste, of course) before proceeding to brush their teeth.
In doing this you offer your toddler the chance to complete the tasks that they can and that aren’t so critical, so that they in turn allow you the chance to fulfill the essential tasks that do require more concentrated effort.
5. Let Them Brush Your Teeth, If That Helps!
With your own tooth brush, of course!
Something that you can offer to your toddler is the chance to brush your teeth once they let you brush their teeth.
I included this tip because it is something my daughter asks to do when I brush her teeth, and so the only way to get her to comply to a full brushing session sometimes is to promise her some time to brush my own teeth (hey, anything that works!).
If brushing their teeth has become a negative experience, you can also use this as a way of showing them that brushing teeth isn’t all that bad.
Another thing that they could also do to ease into brushing their teeth is to practice brushing the teeth of a favorite stuffed toy or this awesome Baby Alive Brushy Brushy Doll (such a great way to teach your toddler the importance of brushing their teeth!).
6. Use Books And Videos To Spark Interest
There are so many resources out there aimed at teaching and getting your child comfortable with brushing their teeth.
Creating a positive association of brushing teeth with either a book (especially if your little one loves to read) or a fun music video will definitely give you an advantage and reduce the power struggle!
The first step would be first to discover which resource works best with your child.
This means trial and error.
You could first start with a couple of books and see if any of them are hits.
Some books that teach about brushing teeth include:
If your toddler is more interested in music videos you could also find some great interactive YouTube videos that can help make brushing teeth a fun experience for your toddler.
Some videos you could check out include:
Your goal is to see what really works with your child so that you can always refer back to that book or video when it’s time to brush.
7. Sing And Dance For Them!
Make brushing their teeth an exciting time of the day.
Something they look forward to!
Usually for us parents that means putting in a lot more energy than normal, but if you could get your child to love brushing their teeth this way, it will go a long way for them down the line.
It’s way better than pinning them down!
What works really well with toddlers, as you might have noticed (baaabyyy shark, do, do, do, do, do, do… I’m sorry if that’s now stuck in your head!) is singing and dancing!
Anything that involves full body movements in synch with music is a hit, so if you could act out scenes from their favorite book or better yet just sing the tune of their favorite song, you might distract them enought that they start to not mind the brushing.
Or, makeup your own song/performance.
Maybe they’ll enjoy it so much that they ask for an encore!
8. Reward Them When They Brush
Reinforce the habits you would like to see repeated through positive feedback.
Sometimes giving choices and even singing and dancing isn’t enough.
Sometimes you have to bribe your toddler to get them do what you want them to do.
I know, horrible, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works!
If your toddler is old enough to understand how reward charts work, you could utilize this just as you would with potty training.
Give them a sticker everytime they brush their teeth and once they reach a certain amount (say 10 stickers or brushing twice a day for 5 days) reward them with a treat or a little adventure.
You could either make your own chart or you can get a pre-made one.
This neat chart helps keep your toddler motivated to not only brush and floss, but also complete a lot of other responsible activities
Give them something to look forward to everytime they brush!
And if they refuse, you could always remind them of what’s at stake.
It sounds terrible, but them getting a cavity is so much worse!
9. Trial And Error
These are all suggestions to give you an idea of where to start, but you know your child best.
Some of these might work one day and then not the next day.
Don’t get disappointed, just keep trying different things out to see what works and doesn’t!
Try getting them to brush somewhere at other than at the bathroom sink.
Where are they most relaxed and distracted?
If evening brushes are a struggle maybe try brushing during bathtime.
If it’s the morning brushing session then get them while they play after breakfast or, if you do screen time than then.
Maybe get them another toothbrush or tooth paste?
Ask your toddler if anything bugs them if they do show a lot of resistance to brushing their teeth.
What if they don’t like the taste of the tooth paste or the color of the brush?
Toddlers are picky!
You could even go shopping and have them pick them their own toothbrush and paste out themselves!
What if they’re just cranky?
Try feeding them breakfast immediately after they wake up, maybe they’ll be more reluctant to brush.
Schedules can be hard to stick by with life and everything, but consistency when it comes to when they eat and sleep will make everything, not only brushing, easier.
10. Implement A Strategy
This is the strategy I use that usually gets my toddler to brush her teeth, when all else fails.
It actually utilizes a lot of what I already mentioned, just it’s a straight shot approach.
I talk my toddler into agreeing to brush her teeth.
This is how it usually for us…
1. I’ll let her know that we’re going to brush our teeth, as in together.
2. Then I’ll immediately give her the option of going first or second after momma brushes and she’ll then choose. This sounds a lot like tip #3 because it is.
3. When it’s her turn and she starts to turn away or refuse to open her mouth, I’ll proceed to expain to her why I’m brushing her teeth. That this is to make her teeth clean and shiny like momma’s teeth. And then I’ll ask her if she wants to have pretty teeth like momma. The goal is to get her to agree with what I’m saying, to which then I will say that if she wants that then she needs to brush her teeth. I’ll again attempt to brush her teeth, and sometimes that’s all she needs to agree to it.
4. If she refuses again, it’s usually because she’s distracted and trying to do something else. So then I will tell her that she first needs to brush her teeth and then we could continue doing what it is she wants to do. I’ll even throw in the option of having me participate.
5. If she still is resistant, I will then bring up something that she normally likes to do and tell her than if she wants to do this today then we have to brush and if not then she won’t be able to. This is usually my last resort and usually I don’t have to go that far, but if I do, I make sure to always keep my promises once she does brush her teeth or else she will see inconsistency and it won’t work next time.
So that’s my stategy but you can definitely put your own twist on it if you choose to use something similar.
Other Bad Habits to Kick!
We’ve talked about cavities and things you can do to prevent them, but there are other bad habits to be aware of that can cause future dental problems for your child.
1. Ditch Pacifiers By Second Birthday
The first of those bad habits to kick is the pacifier.
Many times we parents are the problem when it comes to extended pacifier use in that it’s an easy remedy to any tantrum and it makes naptime and bedtime so much easier!
However, did you know that if your toddler continues using that pacifier past the age of two, you could be looking at some hefty future dental bills!
Up until the age of two, pacifier use doesn’t permanentaly affect your child’s teeth as any alignment issues will usually correct themselves naturally over time, but any misalignment due to pacifier use after the age of two is usually not self-corrected and can even persist with permanent teeth (15).
So, if you want to avoid pricy orthodontal intereventions in the future, be wary of overusing them and start looking into weaning as soon as they turn one, for an easier transition (or at least that is what I would recommend).
Similar soothers like thumb/finger sucking have similar negative implications, so watch out for those as well!
2. Wean From Bottle By The Time They’re One
Just as with the pacifier, sucking on a bottle nipple is detrimental to dental health past the age of two.
Additionally, bottle use past the age of one is known for causing decay (as mentioned earlier in this post), reducing nutritional input resulting in iron-deficiency (16), and even affecting the development of your child (17).
However, there is another concerning factor that actually has the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommending that you wean your baby from the bottle by the time they are one and no later than 18 months.
Studies have shown that prolonged bottle use is linked with childhood obesity.
A quarter of the children who were regularly drinking from bottles were found to be obese 5 1/2 years later, and the ones who weaned by the age (still past the recommended latest 18 months) 16% were found to be obese 3 1/2 years later (16).
The reason cited (taking into account for other factors that might affect results) pointed specifically at excess calorie consumption as children with a bottle would drink a full bottle of milk in addtion to all of the solids they would normally eat (16).
The solution is to start transitioning your child to a sippy cup from when they are 6 months and then immediately to a regular cup, so that by the time they are 1 they are well adapted to just the cup.
Waiting any longer than one will only prove to be more difficult on your child as the bottle (and even the sippy cup) is likely to become a soother rather than a source of nutrition by then.
Related Post: Ways To Reduce Your Baby’s Risk for Obesity
3. Avoid Associating Bedtime With Food
This can prove to be just as difficult as the other two as oftentimes the only thing that seems to put babies and toddlers to bed is their last meals.
There’s the super convenient nursing to sleep and the easy bottle to bed that parents (myself included) always opt for, but as we’ve read, having your child fall asleep immediately after nursing or a bottle can become very detrimental to dental health.
It doesn’t end there as the habit has already been established and you’ll notice that your child will continue to want to eat right before their bedtime, and these habits, if developed into adulthood, can affect their future health (18).
The great thing is that we do have a lot more control in the establishing of these habits, so if we don’t want them to stick around once they get older all we really have to do is keep a schedule and be consistent.
And even if they do seem hungry before bed, giving them a healthy snack with some water won’t do any harm, just be sure to brush their teeth before they snuggle into bed!
The biggest concern is the association of food and sleep, the importance of being aware of this association and curbing it once your child is weaned from either the breast or the bottle.
The main lesson to be learned from this entire post is that we as parents have a lot of control over the health (present and future) of our children.
If we are actively participating in the oral care our child from the beginning when they’re still a baby we will find that it will become secondary nature as they get older.
However, the later we start the harder it will be on both us and our child to implement good habits down the road.
So, start them when they’re tiny!
These tips are a blueprint of what you could and should be doing from the moment they’re born and on.
It might require extra effort in the beginning, but trust me, your kids will thank you later for it!
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Until next time mommas!