Oral Care and Health for Kids
1. How do I stop my child from swallowing toothpaste when we brush? When will he be able to rinse and spit well?
These are two very good questions.
First of all, there really is no way of preventing a child from swallowing. The trick is to manage what and how much they swallow.
Very young children need time to develop the concept, skill and ability to rinse and spit out. There is no fixed age for this – all children develop differently. Most kids have developed this skill well, by the time they commence school.
To avoid the possibility of swallowing too much toothpaste, there are a couple of strategies that can be adopted:
- Use no or a very small smear of toothpaste to begin with, when your child first starts brushing.
- Use the ‘tell, show, do’ method to help your child learn how to brush – including spitting out the toothpaste i.e. ‘tell’ – explain what you would like them to do; ‘show’ demonstrate by doing it yourself; ‘do’ actively participate by brushing your teeth with your child – kids learn so much faster by example!
- Continue to encourage and praise your child’s efforts as they develop this new skill
2. Are you meant to floss your child’s teeth as well as brush them? What about mouthwash?
The reason we brush and floss our teeth is to remove harmful, disease causing germs from sticking to the surfaces.
To EFFECTIVELY remove ALL the bad germs, it is important to clean all the sides of the teeth as well as the surface that we use to chew with.
Our toothbrush is great for effectively clearing the front, back and chewing surfaces of our teeth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach between our teeth to effectively clear the sides where they touch another tooth.
Using floss is one great method of effectively clearing the bad germs from the sides that touch each other.
Ideally, as soon as your child’s teeth start to appear, they need to be thoroughly and effectively cleaned every day, to help prevent the development of any disease.
There is no harm in adding a mouthwash to your child’s tooth cleaning regime, however, wiping or brushing off the sticky germs is the best and most effective way of removing the bad germs and to maintain good oral health.
3. How can I get my kid to open wide enough and keep his tongue out of the way?
This is a tricky one! Children tire and get bored very easily. They can also be uncooperative at times. And tongues just always seem to be in the way!
Instilling the importance of keeping teeth clean needs to be a priority habit established early. This is probably one of the most valuable lessons you can teach your child. Once the habit has been developed, cooperation is easier to maintain.
Making a game at brushing time can be helpful. Pretending to be animals with big wide-open mouths is always fun – crocodiles, lions, monkeys, hyenas – who can open the biggest? Children love a competition!
Giving rewards is helpful too. Keeping a star chart for good behavior is a wonderful incentive. Make sure there is a progressive reward at the end too – a sticker at the end of the week – a new fun toothbrush when they have twelve stickers…
4. Any tips for making teeth-brushing fun? I want it to be something my child looks forward to.
Novelty toothbrushes and toothpaste can add to the fun. Some brushes play songs; some have monitors to time the brushing.
Encourage your child to choose their own toothbrush. This will give them ownership of the activity and will begin to teach them about responsibility for their own health decisions – an important life lesson. Powered toothbrushes are appealing to children. Brushes that portray favourite movie or TV characters are always popular.
Children are very sensitive to taste, particularly when very young. Don’t force them to use toothpaste they don’t like. It is better to have them brushing without toothpaste, than not brushing at all.
Find a toothpaste your child is happy with. If you’re having trouble ask your oral health professional. There are many options available and finding the right one may make all the difference.
Encourage your child to take turns with you brushing and flossing when they are very young. Ensuring the job is done well is important, but letting them feel they are all grown up and in charge is important too. There are many great flossing tools with handles that little ones can manage well. Remember, it’s developing good habits early that matters!
As featured in Practical Parenting – August issue.