There’s more and more evidence that dental health is extremely important to health in general for all ages. There’s even an association with poor dental health and dementia. J. Shahangian, DDS, gives some tips for parents on how to help preschoolers brush their teeth in www.healthychildren.org.

He notes that preschoolers are trying to be independent, but don’t have the control or the concentration to brush their teeth all by themselves. It’s better if the parent puts the toothpaste on the toothbrush until the child is about 6 (remember the amount of toothpaste is very small between a grain of rice until age 3 then a small pea size). He suggests that until children are 7 to 8 years old that the parent brush first and let the child finish.

Tip 1: Recognize that preschoolers are learning how to be independent and using the toothbrush may be an issue of control. It helps to know this is normal and to try to have a firm ritual in the schedule.

Tip 2: Establish a night time routine called “bath, book, brush, bed.” This gives a clear understanding of what’s expected and gives the child some degree of control. The order of this routine can be what works best for the family, but the last thing to touch the teeth should be the toothbrush. No snacks or liquids except water after brushing.

Tip 3: A simple brushing calendar can give the child a visual cue and sense of control. Putting a sticker or smiley face after brushing gives them a sense of control.

Tip 4: The morning rush is difficult. Try to brush after breakfast if at all possible. Before breakfast is better than nothing.

Tip 6: If the parent knows that brushing just isn’t going to happen, try to have your child drink a glass of water, preferably with fluoride after eating or before bed. This will wash away some of the food debris and coat the teeth with fluoride instead of sugary drinks like juice.

Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages (including fruit juices) is healthy and another routine to establish when children are young.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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