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Toddlers and Tooth Decay: How to Encourage Your Preschooler to Maintain Good Dental Health

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Got a bubba refusing to brush their teeth? Our contributor shares tips and tricks to make looking after their teeth a relaxing time!

Dental studies carried out in Hong Kong show worrying results for the city’s preschoolers. Roughly half of surveyed children showed some evidence of dental caries – otherwise known as tooth decay caused by bacteria. More worryingly, 95% of these cases were untreated meaning that they could be more susceptible to dental problems in later life.

Persuading preschool age children to brush their teeth regularly can be tough, but with the study indicating that poor dental health is linked to the child’s snacking habits, tooth-brushing and socio-economic background, it is certainly something that parents have a huge influence over. Here are some tips on how to encourage your preschooler to brush their teeth and some other ways in which you can help them achieve good dental health.

the little cute girl brushing her teeth

Buy the right tools

Buying an age appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste is the first and most obvious step in maintaining good dental care. Toothbrushes generally come with the appropriate age group marked on the packaging. You will notice that for preschool children they tend have small heads with soft brushes for delicate jaws and larger, rounded handles for good grip. When it comes to toothpaste many people are wary about using fluoride-based toothpaste for fear of it being too harsh on baby teeth and leading to a condition called fluorosis in later life. However, studies show that a small amount of fluoride toothpaste for children over the age of two can be beneficial for strengthening tooth enamel and making teeth more resistant to bacteria and consequent decay – providing that they remember to rinse well and spit out post-brushing.

Make it fun

If you have a child who is resistant to the idea of brushing their teeth then try and make the whole concept a little more fun for them. Take them shopping for a character-themed toothbrush and fun flavoured toothpaste in order to make the process feel less like a chore and more like something they can enjoy. When it comes to brushing their teeth, try not to lose patience if they become uncooperative – instead use the time to tell them a story about the tooth fairy and sing songs as you brush. Your approach may well determine their approach and if they can sense it is a stressful situation for you then they will respond negatively; if they associate it as a happy, fun time of day then they will soon come around to the idea.

Twice a day

It’s important to get your child into the habit of brushing twice daily – in the morning and before bed. Morning brushing is important because overnight the reduction in saliva production means bacteria can grow and linger – one of the main causes of nasty morning breath. Brushing before bed eliminates any bacteria, food particles and plaque that have gathered throughout the day – without doing this, plaque can eventually begin to calcify on the teeth overnight. Build a consistent routine so that they know that it’s coming and get used to doing it. Why not get into the habit of brushing your teeth at the same time in order to show your support and camaraderie.


Help out

Understand that children of preschool age aren’t always going to get it right. With some guidance they can begin to brush their own teeth from the age of three or four, but realistically they probably won’t do a thorough job until they are closer to eight or nine. For this reason it is important that you inspect the teeth or even give them a helping hand, paying particular attention to the back molars which is where cavities tend to develop first. While they are still preschool age, it could be worthwhile if you do one brush a day and allow them to do the other; this way you are encouraging them to practice independently but can still be sure they are getting at least one thorough cleanse.


Studies reveal that one of the biggest contributors to poor oral health in children and adults alike is diet and snacking habits. Sugar is the main culprit as it reacts with the plaque in the mouth causing acids that will eventually erode the tooth’s enamel and leave it vulnerable to exposure and decay. Some of the main things to be wary of are fizzy drinks, sweets and even too much fruit as it contains high levels of natural sugar. While you can enjoy these things in moderation it’s important to limit them to mealtimes. Some people may advise brushing your teeth directly after eating ‘danger’ foods but this can be counter productive, not to mention impractical for small children.

Lead image sourced via Pinterest, image #1, #2 sourced via Pinterest

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