Ask Dr. Marla: Toddler refuses to brush his teeth

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on January 15, 2014

Question:

My toddler refuses to brush his teeth.  They’re going to fall out anyway, so is this a big deal? If so, how can I brush them?

Answer:

There are two parts to this question. The first part gets a resounding YES: not brushing a baby’s teeth is a big deal.
This is a habit we want to teach our children from the very start. Toddlers and young children, especially those not used to the regularity of brushing and flossing, may not be so keen and may oppose having their teeth brushed. At this stage in development young children strive for independence. It is important that you continue to brush your daughter’s teeth, but include her in the process. Take turns to ensure her teeth are getting adequately cleaned. This also provides a valuable opportunity for your child to practise while her manual dexterity develops.

Why is it so important to look after these baby, or primary, teeth? I asked my dental colleague, Dr. Mindy Cash, to review the issues. A baby’s first teeth usually begin to arrive around six to nine months. By around their second birthday they will generally have all of their primary teeth in the mouth. These primary teeth help with many aspects of oral development including eating, speech and jaw development.

Failure to clean these early teeth could result in tooth decay, gum pain, bad breath and potential early loss of teeth.

A badly infected primary tooth can affect the development of the underlying adult tooth, resulting in changes in colour and/or quality of the tooth.

Early loss of primary teeth can also result in the remaining teeth drifting into the newly formed gaps. This loss of space could result in less space available for the secondary teeth and crowding problems in the future.

Start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they’re seen in the mouth, Dr. Cash advises. This entails simply wiping or brushing (with a very soft toothbrush) and water. Don’t use toothpaste until your child can spit out the residue.

Make the cleaning process a regular event so it becomes a good habit that your baby will expect to happen every day.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| January 15, 2014

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