Many parents don't know that children's teeth must be cleaned as soon as they start coming in. What they also may not know is that traditional toothbrushes may not be safe for toddlers an infants to use themselves, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, a North American dental organization dedicated to continuing education to ensure the best possible patient care.
Bob Roesch, DDS, an Academy member practicing in Fremont, Nebraska, says, until recently, parents were advised to use traditional children's toothbrushes for babies and toddlers whose primary teeth are coming in. But according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 945 children, ranging in age from newborns to 4-year-olds, were treated in emergency rooms in 1993 for toothbrush-related injuries, primarily from the over-insertion in the child's throat.
Today, safer toddler toothbrushes are available that prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria. Using toddler toothbrushes themselves can help children establish good oral health habits at an early age.
A dental hygienist designed and introduced the first toddler toothbrush in 1993. It resembles an oblong-shaped teething toy, with one wide end for easy gripping and a narrow end with a small head of bristles. The shape prevents it from being over-inserted in the mouth or swallowed, and some models have bumps around the gripping end that infants can teeth on.
Even before children's primary teeth come in, parents should start promoting oral health in infants by wiping the baby's mouth with a washcloth or gauze pad to prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria. Parents also should avoid putting an infant to bed with a bottle of anything other than water to prevent the child from developing "baby bottle tooth decay."
It's never too early for parents to encourage their youngsters to start using toddler toothbrushes."As soon as they're reaching and grabbing for things, they're ready for it," Dr. Roesch says. "It familiarizes children with having a toothbrush in their mouths, and they like to mimic their parents."
"Parents need to be good role models," says Dr. Roesch. "They need to take good care of their own teeth and make dental care part of the daily routine for the whole family. Adults should supervise children while brushing. Adults also should help children have fun with oral care by singing songs to keep them brushing longer or making brushing a game by naming the individual teeth being cleaned."