Dr Beth Winnan talks brushing battles and taming toothbrush tantrums.
As a Dentist but also a mother of two, I fully understand the difficulties we, as parents, encounter when trying to keep our little one’s teeth healthy and clean.
My friends have a lot of questions and frustrations regarding tooth brushing and I often find myself repeating the same advice, so here it is…
Q – “When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?”
A – “You should brush their teeth as soon as they come through!”
Babies teeth are just as prone to decay as ours, plus they are coming through at an age where they are ingesting sugary foods on a frequent basis – breast milk, formula, puréed fruits – they all contain sugar! Of course, this is the diet they need to survive and thrive, but we just need to be mindful that their teeth may not be so grateful!
I recommend familiarising them with a dental routine before the teeth even pop through – try massaging their sore gums with a cold wet flannel – they might just enjoy it!
Although brushing your baby’s teeth may seem daunting, remember teething babies LOVE to put anything and everything in their mouths, so why not try a toothbrush! At this age, it doesn’t matter that they won’t allow the perfect technique, simply that they are getting some familiarity with a toothbrush. Chomping on a brush can also debride some plaque from the surface, so it is beneficial. Be prepared to go through a few toothbrushes though, it’s amazing what damage their little teeth and jaws can do!
As they get more familiar with the brush, and as they get more and more teeth, you can start to introduce a brushing technique – round and round is best, but side to side will do just fine for now!
Hopefully by the time they get molars, they are happy with the idea of having their teeth brushed, as these teeth are very prone to decay due to their complex shape.
Q – “Why stress they are only baby teeth…”
A – “Baby teeth have an important function in the mouth and unhealthy baby teeth can be painful for your child”
I know it can be a nightmare, just persevere!! My daughter has had her moments where she would try to refuse brushing her teeth, but she soon learned it was non-negotiable. She then decided she wanted to brush her own teeth (which isn’t advised until she is at least 8 years old due to insufficient manual dexterity). We conquered her resistance by letting her have one toothbrush and we had another – this was also great when she was getting her molars as her toothbrush acted as a wedge providing space to get my toothbrush in at the other side!
You might also want to try something like playing a favourite song lasting for two minutes or an app such as Brush Teeth with The Wiggles. We’d also love to hear if you have found a favourite method, a problem shared is a problem halved as they say.
Q – “How often do I need to brush them?”
A – “Every day, both morning and night.”
It is so important to brush teeth twice a day. The morning brush makes sense – who needs morning breath! What you are actually doing is removing the established plaque that inevitably builds up on teeth overnight. When we sleep, our saliva flow reduces so our body is less able to cleanse our teeth. This is even worse if you a mouth breather! This dry environment helps the bacteria in our mouth adhere to our teeth and become more “mature”, the more mature, the more damage it can cause. If this plaque is not removed in the morning then any sugar you eat during the day is absorbed into the plaque, just like a sponge. The bacteria within the plaque eat the sugar and then produce an acid which can cause dental decay by dissolving the protective surface of the teeth.
The night-time brush is equally important – not only are we removing all the food debris that has accumulated in our mouths all day, we are also removing the bacteria-filled plaque that has accumulated on our teeth during the day as well.
If you miss a brush, the plaque becomes more established, more difficult to remove and more capable of doing damage, and so it goes on…
Q – “Is it okay to feed them overnight?”
A – “An overnight feed on teeth brushed before bedtime will have minimal impact, however do not allow your child to suckle overnight.”
The dental advice is to try to wean babies off overnight feeding once they have teeth, as coating their teeth in breast milk or formula is clearly not ideal. As a realist, I understand this may not always be possible, and if you have brushed their teeth before bedtime, their risk of developing dental decay as a result is low. However, never ever leave them with a bottle overnight!! “Bottle caries” is a result of babies being allowed to suckle a bottle (or sometimes a nipple) all night, and the results are horrific. Allowing the sugary milk to drop continuously onto the teeth causes extensive decay across all the teeth and can result in the baby needing to have multiple extractions. As a mother, I understand that when you are exhausted it can be tempting to settle your baby this way, but as a dentist, this is a big “no no”.
Hopefully you have found some helpful advice here, The Australian Dental Association website is another great resource and we would love to answer any questions you have about your baby or toddler’s teeth on our social media channels.