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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.

Brushing teethFor 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 James Goolnik of Bow Lane Dental Practice for 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 Goolnik. “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 Goolnik.

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.”

teeth brushing illustration

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 Dr Goolnik. “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 Dr Goolnik. “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 Dr Goolnik. “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 Goolnik. 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!

 

You might also like to read:

Healthy crisps for a picnic lunch
Why we need to play catch and skip with our kids
8 healthy apps every mum should know abou

 


Comments (27)

  • Avatar

    Ness (@jibberjabberuk)

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    Great tips here. I’m amazed at the number of people who still wet the toothbrush first, leave the tap running and then rinse afterwards! I’ve always taken the kids with me to the dentist and I do think this helps. I’m lucky that my dentist is about my age and understands kids. When I was a child the dentist wasn’t interested in check-ups as I he only wanted to do private appointments.

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    Louisa

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    I always get my kids to rinse after brushing so thank you for the new information.

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    Joanna (Halal Mama)

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    It was a very informative read – I never realised that rinsing my mouth with water after brushing pretty much washes all the good stuff away, this is what I’ve always done. My little Mr (13.5 months) only has a few teeth so far, but I try to make brushing fun and he already tries grabbing his own tiny brush and do it himself. I’ll save your article as a reminder, hoping I can get him into good dental hygiene habits when he grows up :)

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    Stephen

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    I used to hate brushing my teeth as a child, no matter toothbrush I had, now I don’t mind as much.

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    julie

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    As an adult who has many fears of the dentist I have literally just learnt that I too was brushing my teeth wrong and I think this is down to me never being shown how to properly do it, now some people may think that’s dumb, but I too was brushing my teeth how you did and since actually brushing in circles and holding the brush at a different angle my teeth are looking much better so some of these tips are great for adults too!

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    Jen aka Muminthemadhouse

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    When I want my boys to give their teeth a good brushing we use disclosing tablets, they love trying to get ride of all that dye in their mouths

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      I’ve read about those tablets. Need to give them a try too.

  • Avatar

    mellissa williams

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    Excellent tips here, looking after your teeth is so important, and gum disease can cause heart disease in later life

  • Avatar

    You Baby Me Mummy

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    Interesting stuff, I always give Baby water after brushing x

  • Avatar

    Kate Thompson

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    Great post – number 5 and 7 is especially important for us as my kids have reflux and their teeth are frequently damaged by the acid.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      That’s really interesting – I didn’t know that not rinsing would be useful for children with reflux. Thanks, Kate.

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    Laura Petit-moi

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    Not rinsing is new to me! And will be a nightmare to get my son to stop doing as he loves getting the extra water… Ek

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    Lucie Aiston

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    I have REAL issues with my Autistic son with teeth brushing! It is nothing short of a nightmare. xx

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Oh no, so sorry. Write a blog post about it!

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    Jada Lewendon

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    Thank’s for posting about this, I suffer quite badly with my teeth now I am an adult because I was so terrified of the dentist when I was younger. I wish my parents were more strict on me when I refused to go and have my braces fitted because now my teeth are all wonky and to say it straight – horrid!

    I always worry about my son having the same type of teeth as me and therefore make sure he has regular appointments, we’ve been told he needs braces, and I don’t think I will have any problems because he isn’t fussed about the dentist thankfully! If however he ever did put up a fuss, I’d have to put my mean mummy hat on and drag him along, otherwise he will end up like me, a adult with horrid wonky teeth unavailable to get braces on the NHS, and in no financial position to pay for them myself! x

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Jada, I hope you manage to get your teeth sorted out and I really feel for you – it must have been difficult having a fear of dentists as a child. Good luck with your son. I know that at least one of my three kids will need braces too.

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    Pinkoddy

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    Really interesting. We recently discovered that the orange juice my family were drinking every morning was decaying all our teeth too.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Oh no, that’s awful. So sorry!

  • Avatar

    kara

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    Some great tips there – I have given mine toothbrushes as babies and let them play with them and they still have a good brushing routine now

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Well done. That’s a great tip, thanks, Kara.

  • Avatar

    Kizzy

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    I have been making the mistake of rinsing, but no more. Great post full of great information

  • Avatar

    Globalmouse

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    Yep, I was doing it wrong! Thank you for this!!

  • Avatar

    Fritha Strickland

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    I only just learnt about the not brushing up and down the other day (my dentist said my gums are very slightly receding) some great tips! x

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Glad I’m not the only one learning this info belatedly.

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    Helen @ Witty Hoots

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    Interesting read and you do learn something new everyday! I didn’t know about the new brushing technique or the no rinsing either!

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Me neither. I have to concentrate more at the sink now!

Comments are closed