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How we encourage good dental hygiene & teeth-brushing - with an independent three-year-old

Independent teeth brushing at How we Montessori bathroom three year old

Teeth brushing can be a battle in our home. My three-year-old Otto loves to brush his teeth but he resists fiercely when I try to have a look in his mouth and when I try to follow up with adult brushing. At three years we allow him to lead the process, but there is no way to get around that we still need to brush his teeth. We haven't conquered this, but as dental hygiene is so important I still want to discuss our overall approach. How do you approach teeth brushing in your home in a respectful and peaceful way?

We allow the child to choose his:

  • own toothbrush from the store 
  • own toothpaste - from the store but he also has around three different tubes of toothpaste in his jar that he chooses from each day/night. 

For independence we provide:

  • a visual 2-minute sand timer - to allow him to practice toothbrushing for two minutes that he can time himself.
  • a low mirror - so that if he chooses he can easily and up close see his teeth.
  • clean spare face washers - on the bathroom counter so there is always a clean cloth for wiping his face. 
  • safe stable steps to the basin - our child can also easily reach the taps to independently turn the water on and off.

We work to develop and maintain a routine that includes teeth brushing in the morning and at night. In the evening Otto brushes his teeth with his older brother which works as encouragement.

Otto brushes his teeth first and then I ask for permission to follow up with a little brushing. Some parents suggest taking turns brushing. Montessori From The Start suggests the child brushes their teeth first then the adult follows by putting their hand gently on the child's and continues brushing. "What is important during this early period is to establish the habit of brushing teeth when your child's interest is greatest."

Otto visiting the dentist at three years at How we Montessori

We visit the dentist every six months to allow the child to:

  • become familiar with visiting the dentist - including touch, sights, sounds, tastes, and smells, this can also have a flow-on effect with other health professionals. It also allows the child to develop a relationship with local health professionals which can help establish trust. Also allows the child to become familiar with dental procedures and tools like the mirror and having the dentist touch their mouth and teeth, become familiar with the dental chair and bright lights.
  • associate visiting the dentist as a positive experience.
  • see siblings having a positive experience with the dentist.
  • receive educational information from a health professional - to hear heath education advice such as brushing morning and night, by a health professional, this can be profound to hear this from someone of authority, other than parents. 

Teaching dental hygiene at How we Montessori

Although Otto has only had positive experiences with dentists and doctors, as he has had one tooth removed it feels really important to ensure he continues to have positive and safe experiences. Finding good and child-friendly health professionals is important too. 

Montessori teeth brushing tray at how we Montessori (1)

We use model teeth (similar here) and a toothbrush to show Otto how to correctly brush his teeth. We use the Brush Your Teeth Activity Sheet. This is fun but also has a serious side to make sure he covers all of the teeth and all sides of the teeth.

Learning how to brush teeth at How we Montessori

We also LOVE these two board books about teeth brushing and visiting the dentist. 

Going to the dentist and why should I brush my teeth books at how we Montessori (1)

Lift-the-Flap Very First Questions and Answers: Why Should I Brush My Teeth? - this is perfect for the older toddler to primary age group. There are so many flaps and bite-sized pieces of information, it's fun and engaging. It covers why I should brush my teeth, should everyone brush their teeth, when should I brush, how can dentists help, why don't animals need toothbrushes, why do baby teeth fall out, and a fun did you know section. For another book on brushing teeth have a look at Brush, Brush, Brush! Board book.

Going to the dentist and why should I brush my teeth books at how we Montessori (1)

We're Going to the Dentist: Going for a Check-up Board book - is much loved, there are lots of flaps and a wheel to capture the child's attention. It takes the reader along to the dentist with Nancy and Teddy and introducing lots of fun topics like the dentist chair moving up and down and the dentist's tools, it also has lots of brilliant parent tips on the bottom of the page. It doesn't directly address brushing teeth at home (the dentist does show Nancy how to brush her teeth) but it's an excellent 'first dentist' book. 

Please let me know if you have any other tips! 

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