Don't brush off care of baby teeth Necessity: Tooth care is important even in toddlers, and parents must win the cooperation of recalcitrant children.

Child Life

January 14, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My 16-month-old daughter will not permit a toothbrush to pass her lips, with or without help. I'd appreciate any advice.

Robin Smart,

Guelph, Ontario

Let your child brush your teeth first and then brush hers, turning an unpleasant task into play. Or buy her a toothbrush that jingles or glows in the dark. Or make up a silly song while brushing.

Those are just a few of the ideas parents suggest to get a stubborn toddler to open wide at tooth-brushing time.

Just make sure the job gets done, says Marvin Berman, a pediatric dentist in Chicago.

Too often, Dr. Berman says, parents give in, with unfortunate results. By 16 months old, Dr. Berman says, a child may have as many as 12 teeth. If they aren't taken care of properly, decay will begin. Don't make the mistake of thinking the baby teeth aren't important because they will eventually fall out, he says.

Over the last few years, Dr. Berman says, he has seen an increased decline in brushing. With both parents working and so many children in day care, parents are struggling with many other issues, he says.

Dr. Berman urges parents to be firm.

"You tell the child, 'There are certain things that have to be done. We'll sing, and it's going to be fun. But we are going to do it.' "

He also suggests a method that puts parents into the proper position to best brush a child's teeth: Sit down, hug the child from behind and brush as you would your own teeth.

For many families, teeth brushing seems to go smoother in the tub.

"I tell them that while we wash their bodies, we wash their teeth," says Monica Bogert, of Fredericksburg, Va. "It works like a charm every time."

Sometimes a fancy toothbrush is all you need to convince a child that brushing isn't so bad.

"I got my son an electric toothbrush, and he thought it was a toy, and he loved to brush his teeth," says Tammy Najjar of Riverside, Calif.

Christine Orman of Plano, Texas, says she allows her children to pick out the most colorful toothbrushes they can find. Many have favorite cartoon characters on them. Or try toothbrushes with musical chimes or glow-in-the-dark handles, suggests a reader from Akron, Ohio.

Here are more tips:

* Make brushing a family event, suggests Gina Daneker of Baltimore. "Maybe seeing you brush your teeth each morning and night will help your daughter see that brushing is something Mommy enjoys."

* Let the child play with and chew on a clean toothbrush to foster comfort and familiarity, says Lois Bartlett of Elyria, Ohio.

* When Kate Bredy's twins didn't want to brush their teeth, the Minneapolis mom had them instruct their favorite stuffed animals about brushing.

* "My advice is to let her get over her fear through play," says early-childhood educator Kimberly Bedaire of Victoria, B.C. Draw big toothy smile on a piece of paper and let the child paint it using a toothbrush and toothpaste.

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