Welcome to My Morning
My toddler is on the ground, pinned under my leg, and thrashing his head from side to side. He’s also screaming in a manner I worry will either bring the neighbours running or deafen me—possibly both. If I could just get him to hold still for about forty seconds, everything would be fine. Instead, I’m going to have to spend the next five minutes trying to contain thirty-one pounds of squirming, squealing, 18 month old—an 18 month old who will do anything he can to thwart my mission. Is having your teeth brushed really that bad?
Some Tooth Truth
Back in the good old days (though how “good” they weren’t doesn’t really apply to health and hygiene, but whatever), parents weren’t recommended to take their children to the dentist –or worry much about their teeth in general—until they were at least two years old. Two. Years. Considering I’ve been brushing my son’s teeth since he got his first one in at four months—and apparently I should have been brushing his gums since birth, I could have been spared 20 months of grief had I been born a generation or two earlier.
I mean, they’re just baby teeth; they’ll fall out eventually. Why must I take such good care of them? (Don’t ask that question out loud in a dentist’s office; you will be judged. Stick to the delightful privacy of the internet.)
Apparently, baby teeth are incredibly important, so if I don’t take care of them, I’m dooming my son to potential pain, speech problems, and issues with his adult teeth. Remember how lazy we mums could be when it was just our own health we affected? If I ended up in the dentist’s chair, I shrugged because it was my own fault and I had to deal with the consequence.
Now, if my son ends up in the dentist’s chair, it’s either going to be for a routine check-up or to fix whatever part of his mouth he damaged by biting/running into/ falling into whatever he has THIS week. There’s no way I’m going to be responsible for making his life any more difficult than I have to. There will be plenty of things for him to hate me for when he’s a teenager, so let’s not add teeth to that list. Unfortunately, my goal to spare my son any future dental difficulties currently goes right over his head, and does not make my job any easier.
Not Exactly “Solutions” Per Say . . .
While I can’t offer you a lovely list FULL of ideas to help lessen the difficulty of keeping your toddler’s teeth healthy, I can share my personal methods with you.
Method 1: Distraction
Does your toddler seem particularly drawn to a certain program on the telly? A favorite movie? A household pet he can’t take his eyes off of? Use that attention-getter! My son has a terrible fondness for Baby Einstein (which is much more tolerable than some other options). When it’s time for his after breakfast brushing, I turn on an episode of Einstein, lay him down on the ground where he can easily see it, and try to be as quick as possible—while attempting to adhere as closely as I can to the dentist’s recommendation of “10 seconds of brushing for each spot.” Sometimes, my son opens his mouth, stares at the screen in a puppet and toy induced stupor, and all is well. Other times he could give two figs for Baby Einstein and we have to move on to the next option.
Method 2: Making it “fun”
Turn teeth brushing into a game! Why do I feel as if I sound like one of those well-rested, well-made-up, super smiley child experts on the telly—the ones you’d like to let watch your child for even an HOUR, and then see how smiley she still looks? Trust me, I’m not. Moving on, then.
Everyone likes games, right? For my son, I tease him with the toothbrush until he smiles . . . and then seize the opportunity of his willingly open mouth before he figures out what I’m doing. This is repeated, ad nauseum, until things are finished. He also seems to enjoy seeing me “brush” my teeth with his toothbrush.
For an older child I imagine you could create some sort of more complex game complete with a reward (“Here’s a sticker! Don’t put it on any of the furniture.), but I’ll just have to wait to try that out for myself. Of course, sometimes my son’s not exactly in a game-playing mood (you can’t even tickle him into smiling when he’s in the thick of teething pain). If making it fun strikes out, there’s really only one other option . . .
Method #3: Brute Force
A person who has never had to deal with small children might think, “how strong can a toddler be?” I’m considering painting my son green and making him The Incredible Hulk for Halloween; that should say it all.
When a toddler wants to physically resist something, he puts his ENTIRE body into it. When my son does not wish his teeth brushed, he not only pushes and kicks, but he also twists his torso and hips, thrashes his head about, and blocks the toothbrush with his tongue. I’m sure if he could, he’d be flapping his ears as well.
When we’ve reached this stage, I’m forced to enact the scene described at the beginning of this post. I’ve had to get very creative in utilizing various body parts for maximum toddler restraint. I figured out how to use one leg to pin his torso and at least one of his arms down—the other leg I need for balance and putting weight on. I can then use one upper arm, elbow, and forearm to get his still loose arm, while using my arm’s hand to attempt to steady his head in some manner. My other hand holds the toothbrush and I use all of the strength in that arm to wrestle with a tiny tongue and clamping jaws that could intimidate a crocodile.
While some may not care for the Brute Force method, our Paediatric dentist warned me brushing would be physically challenging; he also told me to not give up and to—above all—“be consistent.”
Back to Reality
So I will continue to consistently torture my toddler until he reaches that beautiful age at which I can bribe him. I have the stickers all ready. (And none of you are allowed to burst my bubble and tell me that bribery doesn’t work because I HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO.)
Amanda Johnson is an American mum, wife, dog-owner, and freelance writer. You can keep up with her random musings and rants about various facets of life at her blog, The Humble Narcissist, and you can follow her on Twitter.