We often get questions from anxious parents about how to properly instruct their preschool aged child how to clean his or her teeth. We believe that young children can take some responsibility for their oral health. Tooth cleaning should be encouraged as another activity the child can begin to master.
We counsel parents to slowly shape the tooth cleaning behavior of their children and to be patient and accepting of the child’s low level of fine motor skill. The initial goal should be to become familiar with teeth cleaning tools and sensations; this should always be fun! While their dexterity may be minimal, children are beginning to develop a habit that will last a lifetime. The effectiveness of the child’s cleaning should not be of concern. Let the child practice as you observe him or her. Provide plenty of positive social reinforcement.
We instruct parents to clean their child’s teeth twice a day, preferably after the child has completed his or her cleaning. We teach parents the proper techniques when it is their turn to brush their child’s teeth. Supervised practice is always necessary when such skills are being learned. Though there are many ways to position oneself when cleaning a child’s teeth, we recommend you try this:
Have the child stand directly in front of you, both facing the mirror. Place your cheek against his or hers and begin to clean. This may be easier than facing the child and trying to view his teeth while cleaning. Remember, the child, though relatively passive, still needs considerable positive reinforcement.
Probably most important is that parents themselves develop good oral hygiene habits. When parents have good oral hygiene then it is more likely that their child will also have good oral hygiene.