My boys, ages three and four, hate brushing their teeth. They have every kind of musical/character/themed/personalized toothbrush and every Cars/Thomas/Toy Story toothpaste, but nothing seems to entice them – especially not my begging/pleading/whining/stressing.
Dr. Justin Ben Zvi, who practises general dentistry, says most parents don’t need to worry. “Preschoolers who don’t brush on a regular basis aren’t necessarily more prone to a higher incidence of cavities,” he says, to my great relief.
“Most kids now live in areas with fluoridated water, which acts to re-mineralize the enamel of children’s teeth throughout the day. You don’t want to give kids too much toothpaste, but you want to use a small amount and have kids brush their teeth because it influences a clean mouth, good habits and can prevent cavities and tooth decay,” he says. (Note that many brands of bottled water don’t contain fluoride.)
Dr. Ben Zvi says kids tend to not like brushing their teeth because we go about it the wrong way, treating it like a chore. Though preschoolers need help brushing and making sure there is only a pea-sized dab of toothpaste on their brush, he suggests turning toothbrushing into a fun activity so it’s more enjoyable. Here are some of his strategies:
Besides making oral hygiene fun, parents have an even bigger role to play in their child’s dental health by looking after their own teeth.
“Children are susceptible to cavities in part because of their parents’ oral hygiene habits,” says Dr. Ben Zvi. “If a parent’s mouth has cavity-causing bacteria, they are more likely to transfer it to a child by sharing food, cutlery and drinks.”
In fact, next to the common cold, tooth decay (cavities) is the second most prevalent shared disease. Just like colds, tooth decay can be transmitted person-to-person and even tooth-to-tooth, says Dr. Ben Zvi. That’s why parents must also brush regularly and visit the dentist to decrease the risk of transmitting bacteria.
“Parents are the first line of defence. It’s really their job to be monitoring and ensuring their child recognizes the importance of healthy teeth.”
Dental Tips for Preschoolers
Something to Chew On
For more information on tooth decay and a step-by-step brushing guide, visit the Canadian Dental Association at cda-adc.ca.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2013.