How can I possibly keep my kids’ teeth clean when I’m not even a dentist?

Great question.  We’re glad you asked.  “How do I actually clean my kids’ teeth?” is rarely asked of dentists, but it’s one of the fundamental things required of parents who want to do right by the bottom one-third of their kids’ heads. 

The most important thing to remember when trying to clean teeth, whether the teeth belong to you, your kids, that animatronic clown statue you thought it’d be a great idea to put huge teeth in, or you work in a funeral home, is that you’re TRYING TO CLEAN TEETH.  Putting a toothbrush in someone’s mouth and making it look like their rabies infection is just about perfect is not the same thing. 

 If you're brushing the anthropomorphic teeth of a plush dinosaur, make sure to grip the beast firmly by the scruff of its adorable and horrifying neck.

If you're brushing the anthropomorphic teeth of a plush dinosaur, make sure to grip the beast firmly by the scruff of its adorable and horrifying neck.

 

Teeth have lots of parts.  There’s a part that reaches down and touches the gums.  There’s a part that’s used for chewing.  There are parts that touch the teeth beside the tooth we’re trying to clean.  If you’re hoping to avoid cavities, you need a plan for each of these areas.  The parts that you can reach should be scrubbed with a brush of some kind.  A little brush.  A brush for teeth.  Whoever invents that will undoubtedly win some kind of important prize.  Heck, if they could make the brush spin around or vibrate so that it works even better, they’ll probably be able to sell them for a profit.

 The future isn't scary at all.  Don't even waste a second thinking about nuclear war with North Korea.  

The future isn't scary at all.  Don't even waste a second thinking about nuclear war with North Korea.  

When such a device is invented and easily located outside of black-site military research facilities, acquire one.  It’ll probably run around a few thousand dollars, but it’ll be worth it.  Put some fluoridated toothpaste on it.  If you’re brushing the teeth of someone whose not-so-secret plan is to eat whatever’s on that toothbrush, use an amount equal to a grain of rice or less.  If you’ve got someone who’s a practiced spitter, you can be confident using more.  Start using the now pasty head of the brush to scrub all the accessible parts of the tooth.  All of them.  Even that that last little bit where the gums and the tooth touch.  On the tongue side.  On the cheek side.  If you’ve got one of those clearly-never-going-to-be-invented-vibrating-or-rotating-toothbrushes, just get it in the right place and let it do its work.  For back teeth, the biting parts often have a valley down the middle.  Make sure you clean that spot as well.

For the spots you can’t reach with a brush, get in there with some floss.  The goal, it should be remembered, is that you are TRYING TO CLEAN TEETH.  Popping the floss down between two tight teeth may result in delightful and exquisite pain if it’s your first time since your last trip to the dentist, but that act in itself doesn’t clean anything.  Use the now blood-soaked floss to scrub each of the teeth where they touch, making sure to get in that little gully where the tooth and the gum touch each other.  Now you’ve cleaned that part of the tooth.  High fives – now you’re cool.  Just go ask any high schooler.  They’ll tell you.

“But how do I know if I got all the plaque off these teeth I’m supposed to be cleaning?”  Another excellent question with a thankfully shorter answer.  “You didn’t.”  You’ll never get it all off.  Your goal is to get enough of it off to minimize the plaque’s ability to turn whatever you eat and drink into acid.  Since plaque usually is the same color of teeth, it can help to stain it so it can be seen.  There’s a new toothpaste called Plaque HD, which will stain plaque a lovely hellacious green.  If the teeth are still green after brushing, brush them until they aren’t. 

“But the last time I tried to brush my two year old’s teeth, they cried.”  Believe me – the same thing happens if you try to brush the teeth of an adult stranger, so it’s not just unique to kids.  The good news is that your two year old is 25% less likely to call the police.  Kids cry for lots of reasons.  My kids would cry sometimes when I changed their diapers, but I still changed them.  Because it was worth it.  If a child doesn’t like getting their teeth brushed, it’s important to remember that they’ll like getting more invasive treatment even less.  Make sure that you get those teeth clean.  Eventually they’ll relent and realize that they have no escape.  That life is a series of events where you’re restrained and have no control.

 "C'mon, kids.  First one's free.  Just try it, and tell your friends.  Why does it look like I have a giant goiter on the side of my neck?  Should I see a specialist?"  

"C'mon, kids.  First one's free.  Just try it, and tell your friends.  Why does it look like I have a giant goiter on the side of my neck?  Should I see a specialist?"  

Don’t trust kids to brush their own teeth until you’re confident that they understand what they are trying to accomplish.  If you can’t trust a kid alone with some acrylic paints, you probably can’t trust them to really CLEAN THEIR TEETH.  If you can’t trust a kid to give themselves a bath, you probably can’t trust them to give THEIR TEETH A BATH.  If you can’t trust a kid to stay off the CAPS LOCK, you probably can’t trust them to CLEAN THEIR TEETH. 

The good news is that you can do it.  The hard news is that you need to do it.