All primary teeth come in during this stage so it’s important parents brush them twice daily using an age-appropriate soft-bristle toothbrush. Brush in small circles on the tops of the teeth, in the molar grooves and along the gum line, including where the tongue rests.
Use a rice-grain-sized amount of children’s fluoride toothpaste only if your child has been deemed at risk for ECC. (Factors include genetic predisposition for tooth decay, still feeding on demand or consuming sugary snacks between meals.) This tiny amount of fluoride is too small to swallow, but it’s enough to stay on the teeth, says Bertone; if you’re unsure, ask your dentist.
If your tot resists brushing, persevere. You can try listening to music or watching TV during brush time. Make a game of it by letting your child brush your teeth if she lets you brush hers. If that fails, it’s OK to force her. “It won’t cause them a lifetime of trauma,” says Hulland. She compares it to changing a diaper. You wouldn’t put your toddler to bed with a dirty diaper; not brushing is putting your child to bed with dirty teeth, she says.
A version of this article appeared in our April 2012 issue with the headline: Million Dollar Smile (p. 101).