Children's Health & Development

My toddler doesn't like to brush his teeth. What can I do?

What the Expert Says

By Dr Loh Ee Tyug

Senior Dentist at DP Dental

Expert in myofunctional therapy treatment for early, preventive pre-orthodontic treatment.

Gum disease and tooth decay are the most prevalent infectious diseases in the mouth. Brushing remove plague and foodstuff to keep tooth decay and gum disease at the bay. However, getting toddlers to brush can be challenging. Be persistent and keep trying new things until it works. Here are some suggestions for you:

  • Make Toothbrushing a Routine.
    It can be anytime of the day when your toddler is more playful and relaxed. Gradually adjust the timing to after dinner/before bedtime once your toddler has gotten used to toothbrushing. Thorough removal of foodstuff and plaque accumulated throughout the day is essential.
  • Reverse the Power Dynamic
    Allow your toddler to brush your teeth. This makes the routine toothbrushing activity fun with lots of giggles.
  • Keep Every Session Short
    Singing or bringing an hour glass with sand into the bathroom not only increases the fun level but also assures your toddlers that toothbrushing is time limited.
  • Use Books & Videos
    There are books and videos on toddlers brushing or cartoon characters that your toddler may want to mimic to help your toddler get used to the idea of toothbrushing.
  • Use Electric Toothbrush
    You may consider children’s electric toothbrushes for the more gadget-inclined toddlers.
  • Make the Most out of it
    If your toddler is age 2 years and above, out of the few times your toddler brushes or allows you to brush his/her teeth, use children toothpaste with adapted concentration in fluoride. A pea-sized amount is all that’s required.

Other Tips to Prevent Children from Having Tooth Decay

Basically start small and keep at it. Until your toddler takes to brushing routinely, which they all do eventually, work on encouraging other good, dental-conscious things to help maintain dental health in your non-toothbrushing toddler.

  1. Do not allow your toddler to fall asleep with a bottle of milk, formula milk or any fruit juices as these have hidden sugars which will pool around the teeth as they sleep, leading to tooth decay. Aim to establish regular meal times and only give water and healthy snacks in between. Once your toddler is able to drink from a cup, avoid bottle-feeding.
  2. Be wary of sugary food or drinks including teething biscuits, “gummy” candies or vitamins. Maintain a balanced diet loaded with natural food that encourage chewing, like raw fruit and vegetables instead of hamburger buns and fruit leather. Soft processed food not only increase the risk of tooth decay but leads to undesirable facial and jaw growth development. This is because bone growth occurs in response to muscular mechanical forces.
  3. Schedule a dental visit if your toddler hasn’t already have one. The general recommendation is to have children see the dentist when the first tooth appear for early dental disease detection and allow your toddler to familiarize with dental setting. In fact, the earlier the better. It can be as young as infant. This can help to rule out tongue-tie as it can affect the baby’s feeding, making it hard for proper breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is essential to develop nasal breathing and proper lip seal and swallowing pattern. This is important to stimulate facial and jaw growth through proper orofacial muscular development. An underdeveloped jaw not only leaves less room for the teeth, causing the teeth to be crooked, it also reduces space for the developing tongue and it can then block the back of the airway. This lead to difficulty in nasal breathing and mouth breathing ensues. Children with blocked noses often turn to breathing through the mouth. If you are breathing through your mouth, the air is not filtered and you are prone to infections. Additionally, neither the face nor the jaw will grow correctly. They can also contribute to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea in children.

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