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Tips and Tricks for Two-Minute Toothbrushing

Ever since my 5-year-old had his first cavity a few months back, we’ve been on a family quest to fix our bad toothbrushing habits.

I find it very ironic that brushing one’s teeth is “so simple a child can do it,” yet there are all kinds of techniques and time limits in order for it to be done right. (For tips, watch the American Dental Association’s interactive animation.) There is a correct way:

  • Time: 2 minutes
  • Bristle: soft nylon
  • Brush size: small
  • Order: outer sides, inner sides, then chewing surface, then tongue from back to front
  • Angle: 45 degrees at gums, straight on for chewing surface
  • Strength: not too hard, not too soft
  • Speed: slow
  • Motion: oscillating circular (my personal favorite — try explaining this to a preschooler!)

And, just when you think you’re done, STOP! Did you remember to floss?  (Did you remember to floss but skip it anyway?)

We bought the toothbrushes that flash for two minutes.  Then we upgraded to the ones that vibrate while turning from red to green and back every 30 seconds (see above RE: Order).  I’ve added the special treat of bubble gum-flavored fluoride rinse for any child who actually manages to go two minutes without sneakily shutting off his brush partway through. 

My latest trick — full disclosure here, I received a sample for free in the mail — is color-changing Vortex toothpaste.  It’s actually two toothpastes in one tube, blue and pink, and when your child mixes them by brushing, they turn purple-ish.  Both of my kids loved the dual-squirting tube and were eager to give it a whirl. 

The upside: The toothpaste’s creator, a retired dentist from Sunset Hills, nixed the chemical that makes toothpaste foam because it can be a factor in causing canker sores.  The downside: Without the foam, you don’t really see the purple-ness until you spit into a white sink.  Still, the boys think it’s fun, and I anticipate a couple of weeks’ honeymoon before the novelty wears off.

I used to try to be a good example and brush alongside the boys.  What ended up happening was that I spent half of my two minutes with my toothbrush clenched between my teeth, instructing them through a mouthful of toothpaste to quit messing around.  My dental hygienist actually advised me to stop brushing with the kids when she realized that the teeth in the back right side of my mouth — where I typically stash my brush while talking — are worse off than the rest of my teeth.

When I don’t have their little flashing lights to time me, I fall into the same trap as the vast majority of people and quit brushing well before two minutes are up.  Now, I know two minutes is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but at crucial times of day (on the way to work and on the way to bed) it sure feels like I cannot bear to spend another second, let alone another minute, brushing. 

Frankly, I would feel ridiculous with my own flashing toothbrush. Instead, I force myself out of the bathroom, to water plants or pick up toys or do some other one-handed chore that I would otherwise put off. It makes that second minute pass more quickly. Whether it also improves my dental health is something we’ll find out in a couple of months, when I’m back at the dentist for another cleaning.

One thing’s for sure, the plants near the bathroom have never looked healthier.

By Amy De La Hunt, Health Blogger for SmartParenting