10 mistakes parents make when brushing their child’s teeth


Think you know all about brushing your child’s teeth?  I thought it was one mummy job that I was doing okay.

But recently I booked an appointment with a completely different hygienist. It’s a long story, so I won’t bore you with the details, but it turns out I haven’t been keeping up to date with the latest dental advice for either me or my children. In fact, I’ve been doing their teeth all wrong, as my toddler would say.

For example, do you brush your teeth – or theirs for that matter – in little circles? I wasn’t. Do you rinse your mouth with water after spitting? My children don’t but I do, and that’s another habit that it would be useful to drop if possible. (This apparently rinses away the beneficial fluoride.)

Since my hygienist appointment, I’ve been having a long, hard think about my kids’ teeth. I spoke to dentist Dr, his help in recognising common dental traps that parents fall into:

1. Turning tooth-brushing into a chore

“Parents force their kids to brush their teeth or they try to floss them,” says Dr . “But when children are small, your job is simply to get them into the habit of using some kind of toothbrush. And if they chew the toothbrush, that’s fine too.

“It isn’t usually until around 3 years old that they have the coordination to brush correctly. In the meantime, the toothbrush is really just a delivery mechanism for the toothpaste and to remove some food.”

Likewise, he says you’re more likely to have children who are interested in brushing if they’re involved in choosing their own toothbrush and toothpaste brands. Just read the pack to make sure you buy the toothpaste that is age-appropriate for your child – it will contain the right amount of fluoride.

2. Using too much toothpaste

Think teeny tiny when it comes to dishing out the toothpaste – a dab that’s the size of a petit pois pea.

3. Brushing the old-fashioned way

Forget what you were taught as a child. You just don’t brush up and down or left and right. “The vigorous brushing you see in the movies is wrong and can cause gum recession,” says Dr.

Instead dentists now advise us to angle the toothbrush head slightly towards the gums (not parallel to the teeth), and to make circular movements.  Always start in the same place so you know which teeth you’ve covered.

“By the time they’re three, we expect a child to be brushing for one minute,” he explains. “As they get more teeth they will need to brush for longer. By about 12, they will have 28 teeth and need to brush for around 2 minutes.”

kids tooth

4. Worrying about the dentist chair

Many parents delay their first dentist appointment but children should be seeing the dentist regularly from 18 months. It doesn’t matter if they refuse to sit in the chair or even to open wide while standing in a corner of the room – just make sure you see the dentist at least every six months so that over time your child can get used to the whole shebang.

“We find that the best way to encourage an unwilling toddler is to book your own appointments for the same trip,” says Doctor. “If Mum and Dad go to the appointment and have their teeth checked, and then

the older brother or sister follows suit, the younger one is more likely to copy.”

5. Allowing milk or juice just before bed

This is a real no-no. It’s important that water or toothpaste is the last thing in a child’s mouth before bed – certainly not milk or juice, which can lead to dental decay.

If your child does drink milk, dentists recommend that you brush their teeth afterwards, before they go to sleep.

6. Worrying about spitting 

By the age of six, a child should be spitting out their toothpaste, so while they can start practising before that, it doesn’t matter if they don’t get it right.

7. Letting kids rinse their mouths

Children shouldn’t rinse after brushing their teeth – the water washes away some of the fluoride coating the surface of the teeth. In kids, this fluoride has a dual protective role – firstly, it hardens the surface of the teeth. Secondly, on swallowing, the fluoride is incorporated into the growing teeth, strengthening them.

“In fact, if possible your child shouldn’t eat or drink at all for 30mins after brushing,” says Doctor. “This lets the fluoride do its job.”

My kids are fine with this, but for my part, I find not rinsing a bit icky – it’s something I grew up doing. Luckily, it’s less important for adults as the fluoride only affects the surface of the teeth and not their structure for us,

But giving up rinsing will still help your teeth – and it’s even more useful if your toothpaste contains a desensitising agent. “Rinsing with water washes this away,” says Doctor. “Desensitising agents usually need some time on the teeth to have any effect.”

If you prefer to rinse, he suggests doing it with a fluoride mouthwash.

8. Not replacing toothbrushes regularly enough

Toothbrushes need to be changed every four to six months for children, but of course much sooner if they’re knackered and splayed because your child likes chewing on it. Adult toothbrushes need changing every three months because they have a lot more bacteria in their mouths.

9. Being pushy about flossing

Only floss your child’s front (adult) teeth from age of 7 if their teeth are tightly packed together and food gets caught between them, says Dr. Otherwise, aim for your child to be flossing the whole mouth from around 10 or 11.

“There are various ‘floss on sticks’ that are easy for children to use,” he says. “Make sure the child copies their parents and starts to get into good habits. Kids can also develop tartar, like adults, so will need to floss to prevent the build-up. We usually recommend that older children floss once per day.”

10. Thinking battery-powered toothbrushes are better

A battery-powered toothbrush isn’t necessarily better for children – in fact Dr Goolnik says that a manual toothbrush will do as good a job on kids’ teeth as an electric one. But a battery-powered brush can be more fun and they have timers to help you measure your brushing time. Yay!

child toothbrush
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