A Message to the Pediatric Dentists of America…

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Categories Behavior, Medical, ToddlersTags

…Bite me.  No, really.

Disclaimer: I apologize up front if you or anyone you hold dear is a member of this, um, nobel profession.  But, ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY??!!

I think it was at the girls’ one year check-up when my pediatrician first asked me how the tooth brushing was going.  Come again?  You were serious about that?  Loud sigh.  So, off I went to Wal-mart to purchase the necessary supplies.  Incidentally, who knew baby toothpaste was so expensive?!   

I drove home with a lighter wallet, but with high hopes for our first tooth brushing session that night.  I was optimistic, and dare I say, excited, to add this to our bedtime routine.  They seem interested when I brush my teeth, I thought to myself.  I’ll just instruct them to open wide and say aah.  Then, I’ll brush their little white stubs for the recommended two minutes, all the while explaining what I’m doing and why healthy teeth practices are so important.  Piece of cake.  Note to self: immediately refill whatever prescription I was on that day.

Holy freaking moly, people!  The screaming, the crying, the flailing about!  It was like wrestling two alligators to the ground, and I strongly suspect, just as dangerous.  Wrestling aside, I didn’t get too upset over their initial reaction, and chalked it up to the unfamiliarity of the experience.  Best not to push too hard, too fast.  We’ll just try again tomorrow. 

Tomorrow came and went.  Lots of tomorrows have come and gone.  My girls will be two in September, and they still hate having their teeth brushed.  I’ve tried everything — battery operated brushes, funky toothpaste flavors, singing silly tooth-related songs — ad nauseum.  They are so not convinced.  Neither am I.   It doesn’t help matters that the dental hygiene portion of our day occurs at bedtime; the girls’ antics are typically at a record high, while Mama’s patience is dangerously circling the drain.  Consequently, I regulary declare  Ladies’ Choice Nights and hand over the tooth brushes.   Brush your teeth or don’t: your choice, ladies!

Several months ago, I even consulted a pediatric dentist for advice on tooth brushing when my concern over Amelia’s swollen gums prompted me to schedule an appointment (Note: see my prior post on hypochondria!).  His advice: keep it up.  Hold them down by force if necessary, and brush for two minutes, or as long as tolerated.  When I told him their duration of tolerance was typically somewhere in the 2-3 SECOND range, he offered me this gem of a metaphor: Kids don’t always like to ride in carseats, but you strap them down nonetheless.  Why?  Because carseats are in their best interests — just like teeth brushing.  Um, so not the same, buddy.  I told you these people were crazy!!

So, I’m dying to know… what are your toddler tooth brushing secrets?  What works for you?

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27 thoughts on “A Message to the Pediatric Dentists of America…”

  1. We started brushing our twins’ gums hightly with a finger brush around age 3 months. They liked chewing on it. When their cut finally cut through, we switched to an infant brush. I’d encourage them to sing Ariel’s song from the Little Mermaid to get a nice big “Aah.”

    Now, (age 3) we take turns. We alternate parents’ brushing night with toddler brushing night. They don’t get all their teeth yet, and spend most of their time on their tongue, but their aim is improving.
    .-= Sadia´s last blog ..What kind of sick? =-.

  2. Thanks for the laugh. I am sorry you are having such a rough time but the alligator bit was very true and hilarious!

    Our twins are just cutting their first teeth and the doctor told us we should start brushing right away. So far it has consisted of wrestling, crying, and about the same fun times that you have experienced.

    Until last night when we tried it in the bath tub. They were just distracted enough to allow us in with the finger brush. When they began fussing we quickly splashed around for a moment and it totally tricked them. From now on it is baths and teeth brushing in our home!
    .-= Vicky @ thecitycradle´s last blog ..Threading the avocado needle =-.

  3. Oh, I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time. My daughters, fortunately, have been on board with brushing their teeth from the get-go. We’ve had two dental appointments (with a pediatric dentist) and they think it’s the best thing ever. Unfortunately, during our last trip the dentist said they really need to stop sucking their thumbs. Now they’re not so sure if they like him anymore.
    .-= Quadmama´s last blog ..A Possible Solution =-.

  4. The old Disney show Bear in the Big Blue House has a great video about brushing teeth and it has been a hit around here since our oldest son who is 7!

  5. My only advice, which sadly won’t really help you, is to start early. My husband mocked me when I told him we had to start brushing the babies teeth with the finger bush. But it got them used to it. We started with the baby tooth brushes when they were about 1 and already had between 8-12 teeth. If we miss a day, the next day is always harder. But for the most part they don’t get too bugged. We always try to brush for a couple seconds first and then let the babies have their turn.
    .-= Rusted Sun´s last blog ..cowgirl and cow-twins =-.

  6. I agree… Start early. Which isn’t much help to you at this point. I started with a finger brush and then gradually moved up to the toddler brush. My little guy who is 20 months loves to brush his teeth and I think a lot of it is because I started early.

    Unfortunately, I think the dentist is right. Just like they need to ride in a car seat, they need to brush their teeth. Their teeth are important for life.
    .-= Jamie´s last blog ..5 lbs of baby in my belly! =-.

  7. My pediatrician was very laid back in guiding me in this area with my first (singleton). We didn’t even buy a toothbrush until she was about 18 months old. Granted, she was a late teether and didn’t get her first tooth until 14 months but still, we were very laid back about it. We did at baths, when we remembered (which ended up being about 3-4 times a week.)

    I made an appointment for her to see the dentist right around her second birthday (a month before my twins were born) but my pediatrician could tell I was stressed and my daughter was going through a very clingy phase so he suggested we not worry about it until she was closer to three. All that to say, we went for the first time just a few weeks ago, following her third birthday. Her teeth haven’t minded the lack of attention and it was great not to ever have a battle over it. She loved the dentist and is now very interested in brushing and flossing!

    I’m not a very laid back person in general but with teeth and potty training, I’ve not been uptight and it’s really paid off. HTH!

  8. We were late teethers—my daughter got her first one at 13 months, so we started a bit later than some.

    We do it in the bath. They get their hair washed, then their teeth brushed. For a long time Daddy brushed his teeth while they did theirs. Then, around 18 months, I taught them to bare their front teeth for me, then open up their mouths for the back molars. They do it themselves maybe 20% of the time? And the rest I “help”. Ok, make them. On really tired, awful nights, we skip it.

  9. We always sing embarrassing, silly songs to distract the girls during teeth brushing, and always do it at the same time of day, right after bathtime. Usually they’re fine about it, sometimes they scream and thrash, but regardless it always happens. I’m hoping eventually they’ll accept that it’s inevitable and be cool about it every time.
    .-= jungletwins´s last blog ..Already Fighting over Men =-.

  10. I started early, and also sing a stupid, silly song that I made up called the “Brusha brusha brusha” song. For some reason, they are highly entertained by my singing (I am NOT good) so that works.

  11. I agree, you can’t go back in time, but the secret is to start early. We started even before our boys had teeth…at around 3 mos we started brushing their gums with those finger brushes.

    I’m an obsessive tooth-brusher myself, I should admit :)

    I agree with your dentist…just keep at it! And pretend your very hardest that it’s a great fun time. Eventually, they should come around!

    (You might want to ask your dentist, but I’ve heard it’s okay to go with no toothpaste at all…perhaps they’d like that better without any taste. At nearly 4, my boys are using plain ol’ colgate. They like it a ton better than the kiddie flavors!)
    .-= WhatACard´s last blog ..Preschool logic =-.

  12. Keep at it and it will get easier. In the early days, our girls didn’t mind us brushing their teeth. Then it got harder and harder (similar to what you describe kind of hard) and now it is super easy. During the hard days, we played games that helped us along. Some games that have worked:
    1. Counting their teeth. Open up and I want to count your teeth, and brush while counting.
    2. What did you have for dinner? “Open wide. OH, NO!! I see chicken in there….is that a pea?..WAIT! Did you eat rice, tonight?
    3. And if your kids aren’t likely to get upset by the concept, scrubbing away the “plaque monster”

    Number 2 still makes our nearly 4 year olds giggle. We let them brush first and then we finish up to make sure the job was done really well. At this point, they brush for a while then hand their brushes to us and open wide. Easy peasy.
    .-= Rhonda´s last blog ..this here’s the Rubber Duck =-.

  13. We didn’t worry about it for a long time. Sometime around 18 months we started pushing it sometimes. Then one day I came home with Elmo toothbrushes and now they brush every night after bath. They start and daddy finishes up.
    .-= Joanna´s last blog ..Nollen Plaza =-.

  14. I let my kids chew on their toothbrushes year 1-2. Now they do pretty well on their own, and we help when we remember. The pediatric dentist told me not to schedule them for a visit until they were 3 years old.

    My son got his first two teeth at 4 months, but I never even though to start brushing that early. Seemed kinda silly, as the teeth were going to be “dirty” with milk 20 minutes later. But I can see where that training would help.

    But here is my question? Why are the first set of teeth such a big deal? They are all going to fall out anyway!

  15. My girls don’t mind having their teeth brushed. We just use water too – no toothpaste. We have little toddler toothbrushes but also purchased one of those economy package of adult toothbrushes. We sometimes let them “brush” their teeth themselves with the big toothbrushes. They mostly chew on them but I figure they are probably brushing away something at the same time.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Super Stars =-.

  16. Krissy, the first set don’t all fall out. The molars are permanent. We have a little girl on the block who turned three this month and has already had a root canal on a tooth that needs to last her the rest of her life. It makes me glad that my daughter Jessica refuses to go to sleep without brushing her teeth!
    .-= Sadia´s last blog ..Sickie update =-.

  17. The first permanent molars they’ll get will be their 6 year old molars. As a dental hygienist whose dad, brother and uncle are dentists, my recommendation for you is to not let them go to bed with anything other than water. Maybe try playing “house” or “pretend dentist” to attempt to brush their teeth. Even if you use a cotton swab without toothpaste, it’s fine. You just want to rub a little bit of the sugar/plaque off from that day. You’ll be fine as long as they don’t go to bed with juice/milk or drink that all day long.

    Hope I helped.
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day =-.

  18. We also started early but we still had issues. I am a nutjob about dental hygiene bc my brother had to get ALL of his baby teeth capped at 4 due to dental decay. So when songs and everything else did not work, we put them in mini headlocks.

    They also make these tooth wipes for kids you can use instead of toothbrushes.
    .-= LauraC´s last blog ..Phone Photo Friday: play along! =-.

  19. All three of my kids are pretty good brushers. I think mostly because we started early with the finger brushes. (Might not be too late for those? maybe your two would like them better for a bit?)
    My little guy, who will be 2 in September, loves holding his own toothbrush and chewing on it. I figure that’s part of the process…it’s IN his mouth and touching teeth; therefore it must be doing SOMETHING in there.
    The only way he’ll let me brush is if I’m goin’ in looking for the Sugar Doggies (he “woofs” so his mouth opens and I can get in there). Or Sugar Kitties, or Sugar Cows….or whatever. It makes him giggle to think that there may be animals in there :)
    Oh, and I have to say “It’s mommy’s turn in ONE minute” otherwise…no dice.
    .-= Nancy´s last blog ..Poor Orange =-.

  20. Wow! Such a great response… thanks for all of your suggestions!

    So glad to see that:

    a) my girls are not the only ones who lack an innate sense of dental hygiene;

    b) some of you count biting and/or knawing on the brush as a succes (so do we!); and,

    c) I should have started earlier… this may help to explain why my girls still find this such an unnerving experience!

    My fave suggestions are Nancy’s looking for Sugar Doggies, Kitties, etc. (since my girls are way into animals) and Rhonda’s “I can see what you had for dinner bit (if only they would eat… that’s a topic for another blog!).

    Oh, and when all else fails, I’m just using LauraC’s patented mini headlock 😉
    .-= Marcy´s last blog ..A Message to the Pediatric Dentists of America… =-.

  21. My girls are one and we find just using a wet washcloth works the best while watching Baby Einstein and singing a silly song. They don’t really like the brush at this point but like to chew on it, so it sounds like that’s a success!

  22. This was hysterical! My kids have always loved “brushing” their teeth. Of course, I don’t bother with the alligator wrestling and instead let them stand on a stool with the water on, and they use the toothbrush as a water delivery vehicle. I feel like I’m a great mom, and they get to play in the sink — everyone wins! Step two of my strategy is to keep it a secret from their dentist and act like everything is going according to plan. So far it is working for me.

    Maybe your girls hate the toothpaste you’re using. My kids have turned out to be choosy in that department.

    The other thing that helps in my household is that I ask to see their teeth afterward. I act skeptical that they actually brushed. Then, when they flash their pearly whites at me I act as if I’ve been blinded. I scream that it’s “too bright!!!” and stagger around clawing at my eyes. They seem to enjoy this.
    .-= Jen @ Diagnosis: Urine´s last blog ..i discover i am clairvoyant when i accurately predict the ending of "titanic" =-.

  23. We do the miniheadlocks when necessary. I have also been known to use my thighs as a vice for their head while their arms are stretched out – pinned under said thunderthighs. Hey, whatever works.

    We used to let our kids walk around with their toothbrushes, chewing and sucking on them (I’m with y’all, it should count!) but our dentist informed us that this is one of the top 5 reasons for EMS calls (trips/falls can lead to the toothbrush protruding from their necks/throats). Now they can chew only in a chair. And only after we’ve brushed their teeth sufficiently.

    I recently wrote a blog post about our dental visit experience here: http://rajencreation.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/open-wide/
    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..RaJen Review: Formula Mixer (Prince LionHeart) =-.

  24. I’m glad you could find some humor in this topic. I feel so awful every night when I hold my children down to brush their teeth. I can’t figure out what they’re crying about. I try so hard to be gentle. We started early, sing songs, recite favorite books, etc. and they still wiggle and cry. I keep at it because I know it’s good for them. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help us too.

  25. Well, looks like your friends here have some pretty good suggestions. Yes, it can be quite difficult to brush teeth (or do anything at such a young age). I suppose us dentists are so proactive here is that we see two year olds almost every day with severe decay and anything we can do to avoid the consequences of that are worth an effort. If it makes you feel any better, my own son did the same thing-that is, put up a great big fit just to brush teeth..however, it was worse at two years old (the terrible twos) than at one for me. One more tip–if less than 24 months old, you don’t really need the “baby toothpaste”. It’s the actual brushing that does the job-so save your money, just use water. Some kids it seems don’t like Any flavor of toothpaste-so just brush with water if thats the issue. As they get older you can switch to regular fluoridated toothpaste, which is helpful. It does get better with age—and yes, we are half-crazy to go into Pediatric Dentistry.
    .-= Dean´s last blog ..NASA, Apollo & 40 years =-.

  26. Ummm…I steer clear of the dentist at that age and instead let their doctor keep an eye on their teeth. Works for the doc, works for me and the kids. She is much more realistic about what children that age are capable of (like taking off Mom’s finger) than a dentist.
    .-= Viv´s last blog ..Hey Mom! =-.

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