Teaching little people the benefits of regular teeth brushing can be a trying time. Teixeira Murray finds out what the best approach is.

It may feel like it would be easier to forcibly brush your toddlers’ teeth than it is get them to do it properly and as often as they should. However, when trying to influence your toddler’s future dental health it is probably more beneficial to try a gentler approach.

The trick to get a good dental routine going is to start early and to be consistent. Babies and toddlers thrive in an environment that is familiar and safe, so routine forms an integral part of dental health. Brushing teeth can be a mindless habit to adults, but making it a fun time for toddlers can positively impact how they take care of their teeth when they are older.

Johannesburg-based dentist Dr Alexander Faizi Rawhani, widely known as Dr Smile, explains that creating a positive dental health routine for toddlers should ideally start before they become toddlers.

“Parents need to start taking care of the baby’s teeth when the first tooth erupts, around four to eight months,” he says. “Even gently wiping the gums and baby teeth can begin the journey of good dental hygiene.

The truth is that we actually start taking care of our babies’ teeth before they’ve even been born. What mothers eat also impacts on their unborn baby’s teeth. Pregnant women should watch their balance of vitamins and minerals, and their overall health and well-being, which all affect the strength of the teeth of their babies.”

Ensuring that your baby or toddler has a well-balanced diet that avoids sugars, is essentially the foundation of a good dental health routine. In essence, all foods cause damage to teeth if left in the mouth. The majority of the food we eat breaks down into sugars, and is used by bacteria to grow in the mouth. For this reason, parents must introduce, practise and encourage the habit of cleaning the mouth after meals. It may be as simple as rinsing the mouth with water after meals.

Rawhani further suggests that babies and toddlers should ideally not go to sleep with milk or even food in their mouths, as it breaks down into sugars, which causes damage to the teeth.

“All foods are not good for the teeth when left in the mouth, so what I try to do is caution the parents on what the children should do once they have eaten. Bread and milk do the same, chips, crisps, cereal, nuts – these all break down into sugars. Ensure your child does not sleep with food in their mouth, and encourage them to rinse their mouths with water to remove acids and sugars, whether at school, after lunch, after breakfast, or after dinner.”

Brushing teeth can and should also be fun, and nowadays there are so many innovative toddler’s soft-bristled toothbrushes and various toothpastes on the market, that may really help toddlers get serious about dental health. Cleaning the teeth itself is very important, but getting between the teeth is equally imperative, and this is where flossing comes in.

“Flossing is a simple exercise once we get used to it, and many children enjoy it. The answer is that anyone who has two teeth touching each other needs to floss. It is our responsibility as parents to floss our children’s teeth until they are able to comfortably do it for themselves, which I would say is around age eight to 10. Flossing sticks have been introduced, and many of them are made in fun bright colours and shapes, which also makes flossing a lot simpler for parents and children alike.” says Rawhani.

When it comes to the type of toothpaste, Rawhani does not favour any type, but he does caution parents to be very careful with the amount of fluoride their little ones are exposed to because it can be unhealthy for the body. However, it’s reassuring to note that children’s toothpastes are made with less fluoride than the average adult paste.

“Fluoride at the correct amount provides an anti-bacterial benefit as well as helps to strengthen and repair the tooth surface. Only use a pea-sized amount and rinse well.”

In helping to promote dental health and create positive behaviours around it, children should be introduced to the dentist as early as the first eruption of teeth. This way visits to the dentist become a normal part of life. Choosing a dentist who is patient can help put your child at ease.

“No dentist wants to hurt your child, but it is crucial that you start the relationship with the dentist before your child has a hole in their tooth and you come to the dentist with a screaming child whose face is swollen from infection,” says Rawhani.

At the end of the day it’s important to keep brushing teeth simple and fun, promote brushing teeth twice a day, every day, for one minute. Floss at night before sleeping. Rinse with water after you eat or drink anything to remove food particles, acids and sugars, and visit your dentist for check-ups twice a year to prevent problems becoming big and expensive and possibly traumatic to treat.

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