Toddlers are enthusiastic learners, which is why these years are critical when it comes to laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy smiles. They want to be just like their parents and older siblings, so there’s no better time to teach them dental hygiene habits like brushing and flossing. Here are some tips for keeping your child’s smile bright and healthy through their toddler years and beyond.
Establish a Dental Home
We want to build a relationship with you and your child that makes our practice your “dental home.” A dental home means your child will see our practice as a comfortable and safe environment. It’s natural for children to be nervous about dental visits when they’re few and far between, only happening when they’re in pain or need a cavity filled. Your child gets to know us and we get to know them with regular dental exams every six months, which means our office becomes a happy place filled with friendly faces.
The American Dental Association recommends that children begin seeing the dentist at the age of 12 months, or shortly after their first tooth erupts, as part of the process of establishing a dental home. Some parents are curious as to why toddlers need to see a dentist—how could they possibly have dental issues when they only have one or two teeth? At this early age, dental visits are primarily about teaching parents what they need to know to prevent tooth decay and creating a relationship of trust with your child.
Work as a Team
Brushing your child’s teeth should be viewed as a collaborative effort; a toddler simply doesn’t have the dexterity or attention span to brush thoroughly on their own. Start brushing your toddler’s teeth with a soft-bristled or silicone toothbrush once those first few teeth appear, using a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste—the size of a grain of rice is all you need. Brush their teeth twice a day, every day, to get them used to the routine.
When your child is old enough to understand how to brush, hand over the toothbrush to them and let them give it a try after you brush their teeth for 2 minutes. This empowers your toddler by allowing them to take an active role in their dental health. Because you’re doing the actual cleaning, you can let them have some fun while teaching them how to take care of their teeth.
When your child reaches preschool-age, you can switch places and allow them to brush first, then take a turn and brush all those hard-to-reach places to make sure the teeth are thoroughly cleaned.
Set a Good Example
You can tell children that eating nutritious snacks is important for their dental health, but if they see you eating candy and sipping sugary soda all day, you’re not providing a good example. When your child is a toddler, you are their most significant role model. If you do everything you can to take care of your teeth, it makes it easy for your child to do the same.