Struggling with the teeth brushing battle? Dr David Barker is here to help!

Like everything in parenting, certain things with kids are a bloody hard battle. It might be bedtime, toilet training, or the dreaded twice-daily brushing of teeth.

Sound familiar? (OMG, yes, like every day!) It’s frustrating to try and do things when your children dig in their heels. They get sad and angry, and you get upset too!

Brushing kids’ teeth isn’t an easy task, but Sunny Coast Dental’s Dr David Barker is here to help. The Maroochydore-based dentist shares his tips on healthy dental habits for kids; the steps you can take to make teeth brushing a little less of a chore and more of a fun and pleasant experience for you and your kids.

toddler teeth brushing

What age should children start going to the dentist?

If you follow the Australian Dental Association guidelines, it says kids should see a dentist as soon as they have their first teeth, or at least by their first birthday. Then they should regularly visit a dentist. The reason dentists see children so young is to pick up on any sort of developmental abnormalities and to ensure good dental habits are being developed. It’s not necessarily for a clean, first up is usually just an assessment.

Making a trip to the dentist a good experience

Regular check-up and clean appointments with a dentist should be part of every child’s oral health care routine. Children who are used to visiting the dentist from a young are may be more likely to keep up with their appointments as they get older. This can lead to less dental anxiety or poor oral health.

It’s a dentist’s job to keep the environment nice and calm. If the child isn’t comfortable with sitting in the chair, I won’t force them to, for example. I am guided by how comfortable the child is and what they are willing to do or what treatment they are willing to have done. If a child is willing to sit in the chair, excellent. If they want to sit on Mum’s or Dad’s lap, that’s also fine. I gauge it by each individual child.

To help kids feel more comfortable and get the most out of their visit, a little preparation can go a long way too. You can take the worry out of visiting the dentist (and even make it something your kids look forward to) by:

  • talking about going to the dentist in positive terms (even if you are feeling anxious yourself)
  • giving your child some idea of what will happen when they visit the dentist, so they won’t be too surprised when I ask to look in their mouth
  • reading a book or books about going to the dentist
  • playing dentist at home by roleplaying
  • scheduling an appointment at a time when your child won’t be too hungry or tired
  • encouraging them to bring a toy to the appointment that is comforting to them.

Tips to end the teeth brushing battle

It’s about setting habits from early on, so twice a day is part of their routine. It’s like taking a bath. It should be a regular part of the day — and non-negotiable.

Each child is different. For example, my older child took a lot of encouragement and a lot of coercion to get him to brush his teeth. My second child was not an issue at all. He was more than happy to brush his teeth multiple times a day.

For some kids, unfortunately it’s always going to be a battle. In that case, it’s a matter of persevering. It is a battle and it’s a battle you have to win.

The other thing with kids’ teeth brushing is to make sure you’re either supervising or you do it for them. Children need help with teeth brushing until they are around 10 years old. Too often kids just scoot around the teeth and don’t do a proper job. It’s one thing them putting a toothbrush in the mouth. The other thing is using it properly. I still help my seven-year-old.

Electric toothbrushes are great too. They have a smaller head and a timer, some even divide it into quarters, so they know when to brush each quadrant of their mouth.

Other tips that work

  1. Give your child their own toothbrush. Let them play with it and put it in their mouth so they can get used to the feeling.
  2. Prepare your child before brushing. When kids know what to expect, they are far more cooperative.
  3. Make it cosy, relaxing and enjoyable. Brush your teeth together, sometimes let your child brush your teeth. It then becomes a natural experience for them.
  4. Watch a teeth brushing video together.
  5. Choose the right toothbrush and toothpaste for your kid.
  6. Let your kid feel like they are in control. This can involve having a mirror so they can see themselves brushing, or giving them some time to brush their teeth on their own before you help.

What if a child despises toothpaste (asking for a friend)?

A lot of literature and supported by local paediatric dentists, is that most children’s toothpaste is insufficient. You should be using a stronger fluoride concentration toothpaste. The problem with those is that often have a strong mint flavour, which kids don’t like.

There are brands out there, one of which we carry in our practice, that’s a full strength. It provides a full protection toothpaste, but is strawberry flavoured and is well tolerated by kids.

Why is having regular dentist so important for kids?

Seeing a dentist is no different to your GP or hairdresser. You develop a relationship and trust with that person.

I feel seeing the same dentist every time is important for kids, to help build that trust. At Sunny Coast Dental, we are community minded. We ensure we know every patient and offer individualised care, assessing each patient and their needs. Our practice offers a full scope of dental services under the same dentist each time — whether it’s emergency care or cosmetic. We even have ‘happy gas’ if that is needed!

Why are you so passionate about children’s dental health?

I’ve always been focused on dental health and the impact it has on overall health. It starts with the little ones.

When I was at university, I set up volunteer dental clinic in Cherbourg to service the indigenous community. I worked in a private practice after graduating and then spent years treating the Toowoomba community, with pro-bono days for disadvantaged youth.

After seven years in practice, I relocated to the beautiful Sunshine Coast with my wife and three sons. I saw the need for a service dedicated to providing quality dentistry in an environment that is both caring and relaxed, which inspired me to open my own practice. I want to ensure all children have access to quality dental care, so we bulk bill to the Child Dental Benefits Scheme.

Find out more about Sunny Coast Dental at its Facebook page or follow the practice on Instagram.

Do you struggle with teeth brushing at home? 

Written by Angela Sutherland

After spending many years hustling stories on busy editorial desks around the world, Angela is now mum of two little ones and owner/editor at Kids on the Coast / Kids in the City. She is an atrocious cook and loves cutting shapes to 90s dance music.

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