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'I Can Brush My Teeth!': Tips for Learning Oral Hygiene

Taking care of your child’s oral health begins with proper toothbrushing habits, and it’s never too early (or too late) to start.  Some children are keen to learn, engage and be independent in various self-care tasks, while for others mastering these skills can be a challenge or even a battle. It may take your child time to learn to brush their teeth; here are some tips to you may find helpful when teaching how to brush their teeth and make good oral hygiene a lifelong practice.

  1. Start Early – its never too early to introduce babies to oral care. You can start off by gently brushing your baby’s gums with a soft, clean cloth and move onto finger brushes and then playing with (ie chewing on) a regular toothbrush.
  2. Have a consistent routine – having a regular scheduled time (ie after breakfast, after bath, before going to bed etc) will help your child anticipate when it is toothbrushing time and what to expect. Putting the toothbrush and toothpaste back in the same place each time will also help your child know where to find them.
  3. Model brushing teeth – everyone needs to have their teeth brushed – Mum, Dad, siblings, even the family dog. Modelling to your child how other’s go about brushing their teeth can be a positive step in the learning process. You could even start with a favourite stuffed animal or doll, and let your child “brush” the toy’s teeth (without toothpaste, of course) while you brush your child’s teeth.
  4. Giving your child a sense of control or choice – although it is important to teach your child the steps of the teeth brushing task and to supervise their participation, involving them in the routine can encourage them to be engaged in the process
    • take turns brushing your child’s teeth. You can brush your child’s teeth first and then let your child practice brushing after, or you can reverse the order.
    • Add choice into the routine “Are you going to brush your teeth in the ensuite or bathroom?”, “Are you going to use the red or blue toothbrush?” “Are you going to brush your teeth before or after you have a shower?” Other things that you can vary could include – type/flavour of toothpaste, what song is sung/played, front or back teeth first, which cup to use,
  5. Knowing how long to brush – it is recommended that we brush teeth for two minutes, that can seem a looooong time for many. Ways to help may include:
    • Playing a tune or song that lasts for two minutes
    • Using a visual timer (sand timer, clock or timer on phone)
    • Sing a song related to tooth brushing (eg sing, “Brush, brush, brush your teeth / Brush them every day / Father, mother, sister, brother / Brush them every day!” to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.)
    • Some electric toothbrushes have timers that vibrate after two minutes
  6. Other strategies may include reading books or watching YouTubes on teeth brushing, providing a mirror so that the child can see their mouth during brushing, using a reward chart, discussing the importance of good dental hygiene to avoid tooth decay

How to Brush Your Child’s Teeth

Here are some recommended steps to assist brushing your child’s teeth:

Step 1: Apply the right amount of toothpaste. a pea-size amount is adequate

Step 2: Stand or sit behind your child so that your child feels secure. Brushing teeth in front of a mirror is good too, because it lets you see your child’s mouth.

Step 3: Cup your child’s chin in your hands with their head resting against your body.

Step 4: Angle the toothbrush 45 degrees. The toothbrush should be facing towards the gums of the upper or lower teeth.

Step 5: Move the brush gently back and forth with short, tooth-size strokes. Continue this technique for the outer, inner and chewing surfaces of the teeth.

Step 6: Hold the toothbrush in a vertical position to brush the front teeth. Make sure to clean the front and back.

Step 7: Brush the tongue to remove bacteria from the surface

Step 8: When your child starts using toothpaste, get them to spit it out. There’s no need to rinse after brushing because the fluoride toothpaste left behind protects your child’s teeth.

Happy brushing!!


Leisha Ward (Occupational Therapist)

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