When should I start brushing baby’s teeth? Dentists recommend cleaning gums with gauze to remove plaque beginning when teeth first appear, usually around six-to-seven-months. Try the following brushing tactics.
Let baby watch you brush. Show excitement, capitalizing on “just like mommy and daddy.” Around his first birthday, get baby his own toothbrush and enjoy side-by-side brushing just for play. If you first get baby to enjoy imitating toothbrushing, it will be easier for you to get down to the business of getting germs off little teeth.
The best chances for a cooperative baby and clean teeth are to use your moistened gauze-wrapped fingertip as a toothbrush. Gauze also works well in the older baby who refuses to let you invade his mouth with a toothbrush.
Placing baby on your lap with his head facing you is a good position for a wide-open-mouth entry. Sitting or standing behind baby with him looking up also gives you a good view. An older baby can be held cradled in your arms to one side. Or try the two-parent knee-to-knee position.
Once a baby gets a mouth full of teeth, especially molars, a toothbrush works better than a mommy-made, gauze-on-finger brush to get in the crevices between teeth. Don’t forget to take a few gentle swipes over the surface of the tongue, which harbors the same bacteria as the gums. Letting your toddler hold the brush while you clean helps his acceptance. Children mostly protest brushing their back teeth for fear of choking, so begin with the front teeth and ease toward the molars.
Set your child next to you on the counter and let her watch how much fun it is to brush teeth. Give her a foamy grin. When your child catches the spirit and grabs your toothbrush, it’s time to get her a soft-bristled toothbrush of her own. She doesn’t need toothpaste yet. Kids often balk at strong-tasting paste. Some kids are fascinated with the spitting part—that’s what they imitate, not the brushing.
Don’t expect children under three to clean their teeth well on their own. Your hand needs to be on the toothbrush guiding them. Begin brushing the front teeth and ease toward the molars. If you have a particularly cooperative child who enjoys toothbrushing, put your hand on hers and guide the brush in and out of all the crevices in the teeth.
Announce, “We’re going to get the sugar bugs off” (or “the chicken, potatoes, and cookies,” etc.). Sing a song. We use an old (very old) commercial jingle: “Brusha, brusha, brusha…” or “Brush, brush, brush your teeth, up and down the gums…” (to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat”). Raffi has a great song about brushing teeth. Or talk about counting the teeth— hearing you recite numbers from one to ten in an animated way can help a child relax. (By the way, this works in the dentist’s office, too, for those early checkups.)
Choose a short brush with two rows of soft bristles on a small head. Store a spare brush. They get lost, dirty, and wear out quickly. Change brushes when the bristles get bent.
Toothpaste isn’t necessary, but if your toddler enjoys the foamy grins, use a dab of mildly flavored toothpaste. Before using a fluoride containing toothpaste, check with your dentist. If your child is already getting fluoride supplements or drinks a lot of fluoridated water, don’t use fluoridated toothpaste. If your dentist recommends fluoride toothpaste, only use a pea-sized dab. Children swallow toothpaste and too much fluoride can damage the teeth by causing fluorosis.
Baby will lose all of them anyway. It’s important to care for the baby teeth. These primary teeth hold the right spaces for the secondary, or permanent teeth. Healthy first teeth also contribute to proper alignment of the jawbones and eventual bite. And don’t discount the healthy vanity of a smiling preschooler. No one likes to show off a row of rotten teeth.
Here’s how one mother taught her three-year-old to brush his teeth: “On Brandon’s toothbrush there is a little picture of Oscar the Grouch, so I become the voice of Oscar the Grouch. I say ‘Is there any trash in your teeth? Let me come in and see.’ He immediately opens his mouth for Oscar to come in and look at his teeth and eat up the trash that’s in there. Then we talk about having clean teeth, and how we don’t want to leave trash in our teeth. Brushing Brandon’s teeth have not become a big issue because I help him cooperate.”