Toothbrushing: Something to Smile About


Parents often ask me a mouthful of questions on how can they get their young children to brush their teeth on a daily basis.  Let me try to shed light or should I say shed some white on the topic of tooth brushing.  

Why Brush in the First Place?

It’s important for parents to remember that children do not have the understanding about the long-term value of good tooth care. Instead, most children view tooth brushing as a boring thing you make them do. In addition, children under five do not have the coordination to clean every surface thoroughly. This means that dental caries or cavities occur in 40 percent of children before they reach kindergarten, despite the fact that tooth decay is preventable.

Some Helpful Tips

  • Make it fun! One way to do this is to buy different colors of toothpaste or different flavors of a fluoride containing toothpaste and let your children experiment by mixing flavors. Remember your child only needs a pea-sized amount. They should try hard not to swallow it. Instead, they should spit it out, so that fluoride does not build up in their bodies. This could result in their teeth developing white spots.
  • Brush with your child. Make sure the process lasts not just for a few seconds but at least two to three minutes. Make funny faces in the mirror together as you brush at the same time or have your child brush your teeth first and then you can brush theirs. This can be quite the humorous experience! You can always pull out sunglasses to tell them you are protecting yourself from the glare of their shiny teeth. The more your child wants to own the process of toothbrushing through fun activities like these, the easier the routine will become.

What about Flossing or Sealing?

Flossing should begin when your child’s teeth start to fit closely together. This usually begins after the age of two, although children need help with brushing and flossing at least until they are a grade or two into elementary school.

If, despite these suggestions, your child is still experiencing tooth decay, your child’s health care professional may recommend having their teeth coated with a fluoride varnish. This can help further protect the teeth. Although doing so seals out plaque and food from decaying teeth, brushing twice a day still needs to continue.

Hopefully, tips like these will clean up – or should I say “brush away” – any concerns you have when it comes to making sure your child’s teeth stay healthy. 

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5.

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