At Kennett Road Dental Practice, we understand that being a parent, particularly a new parent, can be daunting and overwhelming. There’s so much information and theory to get your head around, that it can sometimes feel like an impossible task ahead of you. We promise you, you’re doing great, but we know that a lot of parents and carers find infant and child dental care completely baffling on top of Baby’s other demands. So, we created a handy guide for new parents on how to care for your baby’s teeth from birth until adolescence. You can access the guide here.
We also understand that learning the theory of implementing positive oral hygiene practices in a young child’s routine can be challenging. In some cases, it can feel like a fight that’s not worth picking twice a day. Maybe your baby loves having his or her teeth brushed, in which case we say lucky old you. It’s not always the case. To make things easier, we have put together this guide with helpful tips and tricks to make your baby, toddler or child’s dental care routine easier on you and fun for you both.
So, whether you’re a new parent who wants to get a head start on implementing healthy dental habits for your baby, or a veteran seeking to brush up (pun intended) on the best ways to encourage your children to brush their teeth thoroughly, we are here to help.
1. Why is it important to brush my child’s teeth?
There is a lot of misinformation out there about infant dental health. We’ve heard that babies who have teeth before they start eating solids don’t need their teeth brushing. We’ve heard it said that toddlers only need their teeth brushing once a day because they eat less than adults do. It’s also been said that milk teeth don’t matter as much anyway because they aren’t the permanent adult teeth. None of these things are true. So, let’s take a minute just to remind ourselves of why it is vital to care for your baby’s teeth.
On their website, Aquafresh says that “whether it’s one little tooth or a mouthful, it’s important they are all brushed from the moment they appear.” This is because milk teeth have a purpose. They have several actually. As your baby begins to wean and move on to solid foods, your baby will need his or her teeth in order to move on from small lumps to more grown-up foods. Another, less obvious function of milk teeth is that they pave the way for normal adult tooth development by ensuring there is ample space for them all and that they appear in the right places. NCT writes that “milk teeth play an important role in the alignment and spacing of your little one’s permanent teeth. Think of them as important placeholders.” If a milk tooth falls out prematurely due to neglect, it can sometimes cause problems with adult tooth spacing and alignment. This can result in the necessity of orthodontic treatment or tooth extraction. Believe us, it’s a lot easier to just look after their first teeth than to deal with the bother of complications down the line.
2. How do I look after them?
The NHS advises that you “start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as the first milk tooth breaks through (usually at around 6 months, but it can be earlier or later).” You can also wash your baby’s gums with a damp, clean cloth after milk, or last thing at night before bed. This is a good way to look after your baby’s gums before teeth erupt. This is particularly a good idea if your child is eating food but hasn’t got teeth yet, to wipe away any residue. It also gets your baby used to being in the bathroom before bed as part of their bedtime routine. This will help later when you have to brush their teeth properly.
For children aged 0-3 years old, the NHS advises using a smear (smaller than a pea) of fluoride toothpaste which is designed for children of that age. “Use children’s fluoride toothpaste containing no less than 1,000ppm of fluoride (check label)’. They advise that children aged 3-6 years should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and that children aged 7 and over should use a fluoride toothpaste that contains at least 1,450ppm of fluoride (ie adult toothpaste). In all age brackets, they should brush twice daily for two minutes. Preferably, just before bed and at one other time. If mornings are hectic in your house, why not choose a different time, such as after lunch to brush your child’s teeth? As long as their teeth are getting brushed with a toothpaste containing the appropriate level of fluoride, twice a day for two minutes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Remember that creating good oral health habits now will help to ensure they have good dental health in their future.
3. Toothbrushes: what are the options?
There are a number of options for toothbrushes for babies and children. Unfortunately, we can’t predict which type your child will prefer as all babies are different. But we can tell you what is available and help you make an informed decision. The sad fact is, that buying more than one type of toothbrush is the most likely way to find one that your child likes. Because babies cannot tell us what they are feeling, it is rather a guessing game. Children as young as 12 months may be able to choose one toothbrush over another as a favourite. If you have a child who is able to choose, why not take them with you to the dentist, chemist or supermarket when you buy their next toothbrush? If they like the colours or something about the toothbrush, they’re more likely to accept it and even look forward to using it.
There are all sorts of toothbrushes you can get that claim they are intended for babies. From bamboo to plastic and chewable toothbrushes to tiny electric toothbrushes, the online marketplace in particular has a vast variety. Whichever style or brand you end up trying, do remember that electric toothbrushes are not advised for babies or children under three years of age.
If you find that a traditional-looking toothbrush isn’t working for your baby and they are crying a lot at toothbrushing time, you might consider trying a silicone finger brush which may feel nicer on Baby’s gums than the usual bristles. If you choose a traditional, long-handled brush, make sure that it is designed for babies or children, with a small head and softer bristles than adult versions. Using an adult toothbrush on a baby or toddler might cause discomfort as the stiffer bristles can feel abrasive on their gums.
You should change your child’s toothbrush every three months as per the guidance for adult toothbrushes. Once the bristles start to resemble Buckingham Palace guards at the end of a long shift, rather than at the beginning, it’s time to change it. This is because they are less effective at removing plaque and cleaning teeth when the bristles are damaged. NCT advises that you change your baby’s toothbrush “every three months or sooner – when the bristles begin to splay or fall out. Babies have a tendency to chew, chew, and chew the head of a toothbrush, so you might end up replacing it far more often than that.”
4. Characters help!
Lots of toothbrushes come with designs inspired by some of the popular icons on children’s TV or films. If your little one is a fan of Paw Patrol, Hey Duggee or a particular Disney character, there is likely a toothbrush with pictures of the characters on it. There are also quite often episodes of popular children’s television shows about toothbrushing. The toothbrushing badge from Hey Duggee on BBC I-player is one of our favourites. We also admire the enthusiasm which the Tombliboos exhibit for brushing their teeth on In the Night Garden. Mr Tumble also does songs about thorough toothbrushing and hygiene habits. Whatever show your little one engages with best, see if there is an episode devoted to toothbrushing. Practising with their toothbrush in front of the TV can give your child the confidence to try it for real in the bathroom later.
Oral B boast a range of characters in their products including: “©Disney, Star Wars™, LucasFilm Ltd.™, ©MARVEL, ©Disney/Pixar characters”. They claim that using “characters they already know and love, [makes] brushing more fun.” So, shop around to see if any of the friendly faces your child is familiar with is being printed on dental products.
5. There’s an app for that.
Having trouble getting your child to brush their teeth or have them brushed? There’s an app for that. Actually, there are several to choose from. If you happen to have some music on your phone that your child will look forward to hearing, such as nursery rhymes or songs from their favourite Disney movie, try the Brush DJ app. This is an NHS-recommended app that plays two minutes of music from your phone to help you time the correct length of brushing. According to the NHS website, Brush DJ “is a fun and educational tool to help people improve their oral hygiene.” There are other features of the app too, such as “you get a buzz every 30 seconds to remind you to change sides and a round of applause when you finish.” Who doesn’t love a round of applause?
Aquafresh has launched a Brush Time app that features their own animated mascot, Captain Aquafresh who supposedly sings and dances for two minutes while your child brushes. If watching something engaging is the best distraction method for your baby or toddler while you brush their teeth, then this might work for you too. It will give your child something to focus on while timing the recommended length of brushing. Make sure if your child is brushing their own teeth, that they really are brushing for the whole two minutes. You don’t want them to be so diverted by the video that they forget what they’re supposed to be doing.
Oral B claims that “the Disney Magic Timer App will make 98% of kids brush longer. While brushing, your kids will unlock new characters and stickers as a fun reward.” That does sound like fun. Is there a rule that says it’s only for kids to use, we wonder? There are many other free apps you could try to get the job done, just be aware that watching exciting things on screens just before bedtime, might make your child less amenable to settle down to sleep. We recommend trying out different apps or timers to find the right fit for your family and your routine. As we’ve said before, if your child’s teeth are being brushed twice a day for two minutes with an appropriate fluoride toothpaste, then you’re winning.
6. Position matters.
The official advice is that sitting with your young child on your lap in front of a mirror to brush their teeth is the correct position. There are several reasons why this won’t work for everyone. Firstly, who has a mirror that low down so you can sit on a chair in front of it and see anything? Not everyone, we assume. Secondly, without something else to distract them, many children won’t like the feeling of being held fast on their parent’s lap while alien tools are moved about in their mouths. You wouldn’t like it either. Another reason this may not work for everyone is that even if you did have a low mirror with a chair handy and your child was happy with the arrangement, what are the chances that all this would take place within reaching distance of the sink? So, yes, while this is the recommended way to brush your infant’s teeth, we’re here to tell you that it’s not for everyone and if it isn’t working for you, don’t worry. We have alternatives to share.
You’ve heard the phrase “monkey see, monkey do,” right? Well, we are a sort of primate and never is this more evident than when a toddler isn’t getting their way. However, we can use this to our advantage by encouraging children to copy what we do when we brush our teeth. If you brush your teeth with your small child, then they’ll likely emulate you. If you have older children in the house, get them to all brush teeth together. Your baby or toddler won’t want to be left out and he or she’ll likely try to copy the brushing that they see older family members doing. If you can get a toothbrush for you that looks similar to theirs but a bigger version, do it. To try this, your baby will need to be able to grip their own toothbrush and you can hold them in front of the bathroom mirror on your hip or however you’d normally hold them. You then each have a brush with a smear of Baby’s toothpaste and start brushing your own teeth. Make sure your child can see you in the mirror clearly so they can copy you. Show them slow, exaggerated brushes that they can try on their own teeth. Praise them as they brush their own teeth. Just don’t forget to actually brush your teeth with your own toothpaste later as baby toothpastes contain less fluoride than adult ones.
If you have a particularly stubborn infant who hates toothbrushing time, try sitting and laying them on their back on the tops of your thighs, with their head near your knees. You should be able to see their teeth better this way and see what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to try unusual positions. Some children like being upside down for example. If your child associates this with fun and playtime then great. Put their legs round your waist, one hand under their neck, supporting their head and get the toothbrush at the ready. Once they’re tipped upside down, they should smile or laugh, which usually involves an open mouth. Get brushing and keep it fun by singing a song, making silly noises or swaying side to side. We advise that you only try this one with older babies and toddlers who can support their own heads.
Never try anything that feels unsafe with your baby. These are suggestions only, but they are intended to give you ideas of different ways to brush your child’s teeth. Every child is different, so don’t be afraid to try different things to see which your baby responds to more positively.
7. Other tips and resources.
The Childsmile website has videos and tips on how to brush your child’s teeth from birth to adolescence. Their website has a wealth of useful information on dental health for children. Childsmile is an initiative from the NHS in Scotland, but the NHS website also has good advice on how to effectively care for your child’s teeth.
We hope this guide on infant toothbrushing will prove useful to parents and carers. We pride ourselves in being very family-friendly as a practice and like to see whole households of our patients with strong healthy teeth. For more information on dental health, the treatments we offer, or to get in touch, please see the Kennett Road Dental Practice website.
Take care and thanks for brushing up on child dental health with us.