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Brushing Up on Tooth Brushing

Getting your child to brush his teeth regularly is a life-long habit. But young children do not understand the importance of this task. From the time the child has his or her first tooth, start teaching your child about good dental hygiene. Most good habits need to be formed early.

It is very important to take care of "baby" teeth. Decay in these teeth is unsightly and painful, and also being potentially harmful. Early decay can lead to infection and tooth loss that can affect the position of the permanent teeth.

Here are some tips to help your child develop good dental hygiene:

  • When the first tooth appears, parents need to start working to keep plaque off the teeth. Wipe teeth and gums with a baby washcloth twice a day, or use a child's toothbrush to gently clean the teeth. Don't apply too much pressure because you can push the gums back and damage the teeth.
  • When two teeth touch, floss your child's teeth each day. You must do this job for your child until she reaches about seven or eight years of age. Then you still need to do supervision and checking.
  • Bottles at bedtime may be common, but fill the bottle only with water. Other beverages promote tooth decay.
  • Let your child get used to a toothbrush early. Try putting a little toothpaste on the brush and let the child practice brushing.
  • Take your child to the dentist by at least age two. You can prepare your child for this experience by playing dentist, and reading children's books about going to the dentist. Don't wait for a problem to occur before making the trip.
  • An ideal place to have your child practice brushing is in the tub. Splatters, drools and gargling messes will clean up easier.
  • Make sure that the child can see in the mirror while brushing his teeth.
  • Have several different colored toothbrushes and let your child choose the favorite color of the day.
  • To encourage thorough brushing, use a timer. The child can brush until the timer rings. Or pick a favorite song of your child's and have her brush for the length of the song. Two minutes is an ideal length of tooth brushing.
  • Practice good hygiene yourself. Floss and brush together.

Prepared by Nancy Gartner, Extension Educator, Family Life.