With the "terrible twos" looming, your toddler is probably starting to assert herself in all sorts of ways and brushing- or not! Some fights are not worth fighting, especially with a toddler, but tooth brushing is just not one of them- even baby teeth are susceptible to cavities and their care can have a long-term impact on your child's development.
A dental home
Dr Michael Gray, a Johannesburg based dentist, says that the foundations for healthy teeth and gums are laid during pregnancy through diet and nutrition but also through the dental hygiene of the mother. "The bacterial content in mom's mouth is transmitted into the child's with each kiss and cuddle," he says. So your child's dental health starts with mom- if mom has healthy dental habits then the foundation is laid for the child to have healthy habits too.
First dentist visit?
You are your toddler's best role model. If you go to the dentist regularly and are comfortable and happy at the dentist, so will your child. Michael suggests taking your child with you every time you visit your dentist, from infancy. "She can sit in her car seat or pram so that she gets used to the smells, sights, equipment and dental atmosphere. Usually when they're about a year or 18 months, children are very keen to ride on the chair, explore the equipment and let the dentist look into their mouths. The best introduction to the dentist is a slow one. If you leave it until there is a problem where dental work is required, then the child will only associate the dentist with pain and discomfort."
The key is to find a dentist that you, as a parent, are relaxed and comfortable with and one who is child-friendly. "This means the dentist needs to take the time to build the child's trust and confidence," Michael says, "but it is a two-way road: parents need to make the effort to bring the child to the dentist regularly too, so the relationship is maintained."
What about flossing? Michael says you should make both tooth brushing and flossing part of the fun, from the outset. Medically speaking, you needn't floss until your child has two teeth next to each other, but introducing "easy flossers" (available at most pharmacies)- letting your child chew and taste them and see that they using them is not painful- from early on will make flossing an easy habit to foster once it becomes necessary.
Kick the habit?
Most toddlers are still firmly attached to their bottles and dummies between one and two years old, and some say it could pose a problem to dental health. "If you can wean your child off milk or juice in the bottle and replace it with water, that is ideal," Michael says, "but if it is a choice between that and a good night's sleep- go with the lesser evil. As long as you compensate with proper cleaning and maintenance of the teeth, a problem should not develop".
In the heat of the battle of the brush you may think, well, why bother, these baby teeth are just going to fall out anyway? "True, and some people do get away with it," Michael says, "but in general baby teeth hold bone structure of the jaw and shape of face, so without them social and speech problems can develop. The important thing is to is to maintain baby teeth for as long as possible."