How often do you walk into your local supermarket and say to the checkout person, “I really hate checkout assistants. Don’t take it personally…” Possibly never. That kind of vitriol should surely be reserved for accountants, not us friendly, scalpel-wielding, spike-brandishing tooth inspectors?
I will just clarify; I’m a dental hygienist, or a gum gardener. Not a hateful dentist. My job is about prevention of dental disease and helping to manage it when it does occur. Does that mean my three year old flosses and brushes her teeth daily? Ha, yeah right. However, because I’m all knowledged up on fangs, I have the luxury of not getting too panicky about it. Therefore, I would like to impart some knowledge so you too can have less of a bedtime battle with brushing.
Firstly, I have drawn you a little diagram of how tooth decay occurs. Please note that the only time tooth decay can arise is when all four factors are in unison together. Remove any one of those factors and tooth decay cannot occur. So, if you have no teeth for instance, you’re already onto a winner.
The most important of those factors are sugar and bacteria. Bacteria live in our mouths all the time generally care-free, getting on with their business without causing much trouble. Sometimes they get a bit above their station and start colluding with the other flora and fauna, concocting a plan to take over the oral cavity and use it for evil. They’re quite influential and can gather an army together in 24 hours. However, we have the power of an almighty brush. Like Mother Nature sending a tornado through Texas, we can send in our lone ranger to disrupt the dastardly bacteria so they are put back in their place and have to start all over again. (Don’t feel sorry for them, for goodness sake!) In theory, this only needs to happen once every 24 hours. So why do we bang on about morning and night?
When we sleep, our saliva naturally decreases, probably so we don’t all choke on our own spittle. However, saliva is the body guard of the oral grotto so when he buggers off for the night, those double-crossing bugs get to action and by morning it feels like someone has shat in your mouth (that’s technically what they have been doing.) So we brush them at night to let them know who’s boss before nightfall.
The morning brush is to freshen things up and to remove the germ faeces so we don’t offend people at work. (If you have an oral offender at work – show them this blog.)
That’s the science – so how do I get my toddler to brush? Tactics. Roleplay. Kids love playing doctors and nurses, why not dentists? They don’t have to be like Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors. They can be nice ones. Take it in turns to be dentist and patient and let them brush your teeth. When it’s their turn to be patient, lay them down on the sofa and get behind them – it’s easier to see all their little toothy pegs and give them a quick brush. You can use toothpaste if you want. Fluoride is great but you can’t beat the might of the brush, violently destroying the microbes.
Let them watch you brush your teeth and give them their own to copy you. Put on a timer or play their favourite song with which they have to dance around to and brush for the entire duration. It’s all about slowly, slowly, catchy monkey. It doesn’t have to be a fastidious routine from the word go – if you get in there a couple of times a week, brilliant. If you can build it up to daily by the time they’re about two, you’ve cracked it. If they’re still on a 3-4 times a week by the time they’re three, keep going – you’ll get there. You just don’t want it to become a battle. Just remember the extremely scientific illustration. If they’ve had loads of sugary things that day, especially PM, then try and get a brush in with a smear of toothpaste, even if it’s just them chewing on it. Every little helps to keep those bugs in check. Yes, they eventually lose their baby teeth but it’s about building good habits for the ones they don’t lose, or they may be at risk of a work colleague showing them this blog in years to come.
FOOTNOTE: Children should not be responsible for their own oral health until they are proficient at joined-up handwriting as this shows good enough dexterity. In girls, probably around the age of 4, and in boys, possibly never. (Not at all evidence-based).