Most commonly, advice will be to brush for two minutes, twice a day.
In the real world, the tolerance level for such an activity for a full two minutes, is equivalent to teasing a lion with a piece of meat…it’s only a matter of time before you get your head removed from it’s neckstand by the unnatural strength a toddler can muster from nowhere when it really doesn’t want to do something.
My husband goes to martial arts classes to be taught techniques my two year old was born with. The Boy can miraculously turn to liquid, melt on the floor and slide out of my grip with an ease most Houdinis would envy, all to avoid a) putting a coat on, b) getting into a pushchair, c) being stopped from running into the path of a speeding vehicle.
He uses his melting technique for toothbrushing also, however, there are five main tricks that can help even the most reluctant of brusher comply with a bit of pre-breakfast/bedtime brushing.
#1 Monkey see monkey do
Most children will be glued to your ankles especially if you venture anywhere near the toilet, so will be happy to accompany you to the bathroom. This is also because the bathroom provides an endless supply of drinking/splashing water available from the strange shaped bowl, a brilliantly fun paper roll that makes a white mountain on the floor and an oversized brush in it’s own container, perfect for cleaning the walls with.
The earlier they can see you brushing and be included the better. Get them to ‘help’ put the toothpaste on your brush and then offer them their own so it feels like they’re being included in something exciting and special. If you have a bathroom mirror, hold them so they can see you brush whilst they ‘practice’ and once you’re finished you can take over. If they’re walking, use a stool for them to stand on next to you, so they can see their reflection and feel like they’re being included in something grown up and interesting.
#2 Make lots of noise
Not only can you teach your child phonics whilst brushing, you can also make yourself sound like a complete moron. It’s all for a good cause. It’ll also likely make you improve your oral hygiene to as it teaches a more methodical technique as opposed to random scrubbing like a maniac.
The two main sounds I use are “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and “arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr”. Smaller ones can also start to associate the noise with an action which makes it easier than saying “open your mouth” or “close your teeth together” when they might be too young to understand. Plus, by the end of the day, you’re so fed up with hearing the sound of your own voice, it’s nice to not have to use actual words.
So, on your own teeth, start with your front teeth touching edge to edge and make the “e” sound. Be sure to show the little ones what you are doing when you make that noise. Then methodically and slowly work your way around, using small and gentle scrubbing movements from bottom left to right, starting at the back. When you swap sides, make sure you don’t automatically go straight to the back again. Start at the front where you finished and work your way back. Repeat at the top.
Using the “ar” noise, open wide and scrub the biting surfaces like your life depends on it.
Keeping the “ar” noise going, use the same left to right technique for the inside surfaces.
Don’t forget the tongue! Poke you tongue out and give it a good scrub.
NB. I have mentioned before about brushing BEFORE breakfast. Bacteria present on the teeth, especially first thing in the morning metabolises your breakfast, uses it for fuel and then produces acid as a by product. Translation: the bacteria eats your breakfast and poos out acid. This acidic environment softens the enamel which then if you brush, can damage the enamel further. Tongue brushing is another good reason for saving breakfast till after. If tongue brushing makes you gag, you’ll only dry retch and won’t come face to face with your cornflakes, avoiding having to use your finger to push the lumps down the plughole.
Once you’ve shown the kiddies your noisy technique, you can get them to copy whilst you brush theirs.
#3 Experiment with locations
It doesn’t have to be in the bathroom. It can be anywhere, because the amount of toothpaste you use for a 0-4 year old is such a small amount, they shouldn’t foam at the mouth like a rabid dog. I have always used adult toothpaste from the word go but just varied the amount. It is literally just the tiniest smear to begin with and then three years and over, they can graduation to a little blob. However, I still use a smear with my four year old just because I know I get better compliance if we brush her teeth in the bedroom and it saves having to spit out any froth.
The telly can sometimes come in useful if they tend to sit in front of it like a sedated zombie. Distraction can sometimes be key.
#4 Role play
This is my favourite because children love to play doctors and nurses but rarely a dentist. It is an equally viable career path to pursue as long as they aspire to only work in the private sector. It can also help alleviate fears of visiting the dentist because they already know what to expect.
Hanging their head off the edge of the bed is handy because it allows you to have a good look round their gnashers, especially the top ones.
This, as well, means they get to brush your teeth too. All’s fair in love and war and it will all go towards getting compliance if they’re allowed to brush yours first.
You may need to have your answers prepared to the, “urrrggghhhhhh, why have you got grey bits in your teeth?” I suggest something along the lines of, “when I was little, every time I didn’t do as my mummy and daddy told me, the tooth fairy would come and hammer holes in my teeth in the middle of the night whilst hundreds of tiny, snarling pixies held me down. The grey stuff is the toxic metal they filled the holes with, that slowly melts the brain.”
#5 Time doesn’t really matter
If you know you are on limited time due to tiredness (theirs and yours) or you can see their fist rising, ready to knock your block off, then try and prioritise giving the biting surfaces a good scrub as this is where all the nooks and crannies are in little teeth.
Also, let’s be sensible; if they only have their two front teeth, brushing them for two minutes is likely to lead to brushing the teeth into dust. Teeth, when newly erupted, have softer enamel initially so don’t be too overzealous. As long as they’ve had a methodical brush round and been touched by some fluoride, then time is irrelevant until they’re preschoolers.
Something else important to remember, the first adult molars to erupt do not have a baby tooth predecessor and appear out of nowhere around the age of 6, so keep supervising until a child becomes proficient at handwriting. Although, ironically, if they do become a dentist, their handwriting will likely remain appalling.
There you have it. All I can do now is wish you good luck! Not that you’ll need it with my fool-proof guide, of course.