Your toddler's favorite phrase may very well be, "I can do it myself!" And although getting dressed, potty training and even self-feeding means handing over some of that control to your little one, dental hygiene is one area where your toddler still needs assistance. Even if your little one can use a toothbrush solo, hygiene habits and technique take time to develop.
If your stubborn little ones insist on their independence, some dental health activities for toddlers can help teach oral health and proper technique. Eventually, those independent oral hygiene skills will be up to snuff.
Combining snacks and learning: It's a toddler's paradise. And because your little ones might have a hard time seeing into their own mouths, creating a model can give you the opportunity to talk about the mouth's components and how to care for each one.
Start by slicing an apple into eighths, but leave the skin on. Place the apple slices on a plate. Then, help your toddler use the back of a spoon or a very blunt plastic knife to smear peanut butter along the top side of one slice. This is the bottom of your smile. You and your toddler can then arrange the teeth by placing mini marshmallows along the peanut butter surface. Then, smear a little peanut butter along the bottom of another slice, and press it on top of the marshmallows to complete the mouth.
Before you dig into your delicious creation, point out and explain the different parts of the mouth: the lips (the apples), the gums (peanut butter or jelly) and the teeth (the marshmallows). If your little one has a nut allergy, you can substitute jelly or jam.
Construction Paper Brushing
Talk to your toddler about the importance of thorough brushing by demonstrating on a tooth made out of yellow construction paper. It should be easy to cut a general tooth shape, but if you don't have the steadiest hand, you could also print an image of a tooth on yellow card stock.
Sit down with your toddler and a couple of white crayons, and talk about how brushing your teeth removes stuff like food and stains. Then, go to work with the white crayon and "brush" the yellow away. Remind your child to get every nook and cranny, because kids often stick to just the front surface of teeth when brushing. When every inch of the tooth has been colored white, head to the bathroom and test out your little one's new knowledge. Brush with an age-appropriate toothpaste, like My First Colgate, which gently cleans teeth and is safe if accidentally swallowed. Only use small amounts; the American Dental Association recommends children under the age of three should have no more than a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice on the toothbrush. Work together to brush with gentle, short strokes, moving the brush back and forth against your toddler's teeth and gums.
Little hands aren't always the best for flossing, but you can have your toddler practice so that he or she is less apprehensive about letting you help. Grab a few pieces of yarn, some play dough and a few large toddler-sized Lego blocks (the larger Duplo brand blocks work well). Use the play dough to put some "debris" in between the prongs of the building blocks, much like plaque that gets stuck between teeth. You can then demonstrate how to wrap the "floss" (yarn) around your fingers, pull it taut and then use it to remove those pieces from between the teeth.
Chances are your toddler will want to get in on the action, and getting to know the process will make your little one feel more comfortable when it comes time for you to help with the nightly flossing routine.
While it might not be time for you to let your little one do everything solo, teaching solid habits and proper hygiene using dental health activities for toddlers can help create healthy routines for life. One day, when it's finally time to trust your child to brush alone, you can feel confident that you've instilled the right techniques.