Brushing Options for Toddlers

oral hygiene options for toddlersParents, particularly first-time moms and dads, eagerly await those first teeth emerging from their baby’s gums (if nothing else than to stop all of the teething-related agony). Once they’ve sprouted though, it’s time to start keeping those pearly whites clean.

You can use a washcloth, finger brush, or small child’s toothbrush for the task. There are lots of toothpastes marketed for children, with a variety of active ingredients. Some parents opt for fluoride toothpastes, and if this is you, current ADA recommendations say a small smear of fluoridated toothpaste as soon as there are erupted teeth is the way to go when brushing. If you go the fluoride route, it is important to keep your kids from swallowing the toothpaste (easier said than done with a child, right?), and to gently wipe the teeth with a washcloth when done brushing.

Some parents choose to avoid fluoride altogether for a number of reasons, and they can choose from either toothpastes with no “active” ingredients or pastes with xylitol. The xylitol ones are sold in every drugstore and grocery store I’ve been to in Japan, but in the states it was generally something we ordered online.

It wouldn’t be parenting without even more options to consider though, right? Do you actually need toothpaste? Many parents opt for none, but many of the natural, non-commercial options are particularly yucky tasting (ever brushed with plain baking soda before? It’s not super pleasant).

The most basic option is to dry brush or brush with water. If your child is a little older, she can also begin using a waterpik. Brushing with just water is actually pretty effective at getting teeth clean (my son and his classmates do this at their Japanese elementary school everyday after lunch). You can use a washcloth for tinier tots with this method as well.

If you worry that water isn’t going to cut the mustard (perhaps literally, if you have a somewhat adventurous eater), you can also brush with coconut oil. Unlike baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, coconut oil doesn’t have much flavor and is effective at cleaning the teeth. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties as well.

Most important is establishing the habit of brushing twice a day, and trying to steer clear, or at least limit, things like gummies, which stick sugar up in teeth. It seems tooth decay in toddlers is on the rise, so having good habits established is really important.

Meaghan Howard is a stay-at-home mom to two little boys and wife to her hard-working husband. They currently live in Japan, where sweets are not nearly as easy to find as they were back home in the states (much to her sadness).

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