Kids' Toothbrushing Solution (aka why my bathroom is no longer smeared with toothpaste)

Kitchen counter tooth-brushing setup

Tooth brushing. With 4 kids, ages 7 and under, tooth brushing is a real ordeal around here. It's also something really important to Joshua and me, since we want our children to have good dental health and good hygiene habits from a very young age.

Our goal is for tooth brushing to happen twice a day, and flossing (with one of those handy plastic flossers) before bed. Now, I never feel like brushing 10 sets of teeth each day (4 kids + my own teeth, 2 times a day is a lot of brushing, even if Joshua does some of it!). So, I let the older ones (ages 3, 5, and 7) brush their own teeth in the morning, and just help with the bedtime brushing and flossing.

And somehow, almost magically, our bathroom was never clean. Toothpaste was being smeared in the strangest places. I'd find toothpaste smudged on the door, the mirror, the wall, and of course -- the bathroom counter. And the tube of toothpaste was emptying way too quickly.

We tried putting the toothpaste in a high bathroom cupboard, to be dispensed only by Mom in the morning. But I couldn't seem to make it back there to help dispense toothpaste, as having it "up and out of the way" made it even more inconvenient to remember and do all the brushing.

Joshua came up with a solution that has been working brilliantly for a few months now. We put the toothbrushes and toothpaste in the kitchen. I use a little cup on my window sill, so the toothbrushes can air dry and stay clean, while still being out of the way and easily accessible.

Kitchen counter tooth-brushing setup

In the morning when we're done with breakfast and taking our dishes to the sink, the toothbrushes are right there, waiting for me to put toothpaste on them. I usually send the kids back to the bathroom one at a time to brush and then bring their toothbrush back to me (so it doesn't end up on the bathroom floor or who knows where else!). And the baby (1 year old) gets his teeth brushed right at the kitchen sink.

This setup has helped our toothpaste last a LOT longer. :) (Read more frugal tips at Frugal Fridays!)

I've found the best prices on children's' toothbrushes at places like Big Lots, dollar stores, or Wal-Mart. I try to find a package with at least 2 toothbrushes in it for around $1. If I'm not sure of the quality of the toothbrushes, I just buy one package to see how nice they are. I've been surprised that the more expensive toothbrushes are not always the better ones!

I also give the kids a new toothbrush whenever theirs is getting worn and frayed. This seems to be every 2-3 months. A new toothbrush really works a lot better than an old one, so this is an area where I do not try to "save" by making-do with an old toothbrush, for both us and the children.

Xylitol

Here is a post I wrote about using xylitol to improve dental health, and a delicious affordable alternative to purchasing flavored xylitol mints:

Xylitol: Promoting dental health naturally and frugally

I've not been 100% consistent in using xylitol (life gets in the way sometimes!), but my teeth are so much cleaner when I do use it! :)

Would you mind sharing an update regarding how you like(ed?) using this system? We're considering trying it in our family. Thanks! :)

-Annie

Do I still follow Dr. Ellie's dental system for cleaning my teeth? Yes -- partially. :) Originally (3-4 years ago) I had to add a WaterPik to my routine because of a tooth that was breaking/broken and needed to be kept really clean. (I also didn't chew on that side of my mouth. Do you know how much better food tastes when you're chewing with your whole mouth and tongue?!)

At the end of last year, I finally got that tooth fixed. I had been able to keep away infection and be pain-free for over 3 years with Dr. Ellie's system, but the tooth was much too decayed to remineralize or heal.

After all my research, I did go with a root canal and crown, as I felt my risk factors for the root canal were low (no infection present, very skilled dentist who only does root canals, the "safest" packing material for the root canal, etc.) and I was comfortable getting it fixed in that way. :)

All that to say, I no longer need to use the WaterPik, but I still do use and like it! I also floss once a day, which is not part of Dr. Ellie's "system". If I remember right, she "allows" something like a WaterPik or flossing to be added to "the system" without a problem.

The parts of her system I do use are the toothpaste (Crest Original Paste) and rinses (Listerine and Act), in "her" order. The toothpaste really does seem to work the best for us all around. I use small amounts for the children who can spit. I have tried fluoride-free toothpaste and even with good brushing habits, our teeth had plaque build-up.

I think there is room for differences in dental care, and you should definitely find and use what you're comfortable with! I'm very thankful that through all the reading I've done and since finding and using Dr. Ellie's system, our family's dental health has improved. (Having dental insurance now helps too.) :)

Got any tips for tooth brushing with kids? Tell me in the comments! :)

Comments

Our dentist said kids can't brush their own teeth adequately until at least 8 so I do teeth, while DH occasionally lets our almost 8 year old have a go at his own teeth. I think that stops mess! I did click on this post thinking "what mess does toothbrushing make?" so that must be the difference. I shudder to imagine how much mess and how little brushing would happen if my two were unleashed on the bathroom unaccompanied at tooth brushing time! Besides, for us, I do teeth, hair and faces for me and both kids together so DD gets her hair fine and we get face cream etc. Lucy x

I have read the same thing -- that kids can start brushing on their on about 2nd grade (about the time they have fine motor skills for cursive writing). :)

I am sure if I did all the tooth brushing every single time there would be less mess! But there have been times when it's just not feasible for me, so we do parent-brushing once a day (before bed) and child-brushing in the mornings. So far it seems to work okay! :)

I use Dr. Ellie's system. I know she says not to use generic products, but I do use a generic form of ACT, and it seems to work fine. I was using a generic form of Listerine, too, which worked fine. But they stopped making it in the mild flavor I like so I buy real Listerine in the gentle mint or soft mint or whatever it's called (used to be vanilla mint).

One thing I discovered with the system: she says to rinse with Closys mouthwash before brushing with the Crest. That was really expensive, and it went fast. About the time I was worrying about the cost of the Closys mouthwash, I read that SLS (sodium laurel sulfates) in toothpaste can contribute to canker sores. My husband has suffered from terrible canker sores all his life, so I started looking for an SLS-free toothpaste for him. Well, Closys makes a toothpaste, and it is SLS free! It is a lot more expensive than regular toothpaste, but it costs about the same as a bottle of the Closys mouth rinse, and it lasts 3-4 times as long. So we started skipping the Closys rinse step and switched from Crest to the Closys toothpaste. The results have been marvelous. I don't think there is fluoride in the toothpaste, but since we always end with a fluoride rinse, it seems to be just fine. And we hardly ever get canker sores anymore, along with decreased tooth sensitivity!

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with Dr. Ellie's system! :)

Oh, I forgot to mention the Closys! I was using that until about 18 months ago when I ran out and couldn't find it at stores I regularly went to and didn't want to make a special trip out for (let's face it...) a really pricey item!

I have tried the Closys toothpaste when it came as a free sample with some of the rinse. Maybe I'll check into it again, if I ever make it to Walgreens (I'm horrible about running errands).

I'll have to read your original post again, esp re: the xylitol. I'm sort of a "real foodie" and I wonder about eating xylitol - a sugar alcohol IIRC? But the reported benefits seem worth checking out. thanks for the update! :)
-Annie

I think the hard-core "real foodies" don't approve of consuming xylitol, even from a birch (not corn) source, since it is processed. But, you could always swish some and spit it out if you don't want to swallow... :) It just makes my teeth feel good doing that! :) I rarely cook with xylitol.

I use Dr Ellies system because of your website. I love it! I also use Closy and subscribed to their website. About 2x a yr. they send an email offering 50% off plus free shipping. I get 6 (32oz) bottles for around $25 dollars. I do her system religiously and also use xylitol. It really has kept our teeth healthy and strong. Love your website. Blessings!

Thanks for the tip on getting the Closys for cheaper! I'll definitely have to sign up for that! :)

After reading about her on your blog, I did check out her site. I have yet to get some xylitol, but I have been doing the Listerine, brush with Crest Original, and then finishing up with the Act. I can say that just from doing that alone, my teeth feel much better! One question, though -- I am pregnant, is xylitol something you used while pregnant? I have not researched it at all -- just wondering if you used it while pregnant. Thanks! ~ Courtney

Is Xylitol Safe for Pregnant Women
Dear Dr. Ellie:

Are Zellies safe for pregnant women?

JD

Dear JD,

Yes, xylitol was eaten during world war II by the population of Europe and is now consumed safely by everyone in Scandinavia. More recently xylitol has been used (since 1970)in a variety of studies with pregnant women.

My own patients who have consumed xylitol during pregnancy went full term with their babies (gum disease is linked to pre-term birth) and their babies are simply beautiful! These women are convinced that xylitol babies are special! These ladies found that their dental health was protected perfectly during their entire pregnancy they were all on the complete mouth care system.

Like everything else, moderation is good. You only need a teaspoon and a half of xylitol for dental health! (6.5 grams) I would limit consumption 10 to 15 grams a day this just seems sensible.

Hope this helps,
Ellie
Dental Health for Everyone!
26, Corporate Woods
Rochester NY 14623

I use xylitol during pregnancy/nursing and have not heard anything contraindicating it. :) Of course, like the quote from Dr. Ellie above -- I think moderation is good! :)

Glad to read your update and that you were able to keep from infection. Very good!
We love xylitol. It's kept on our table in an old Parmesan shaker and the kids get a pinch after their meals ;-)

Thanks 4 sharing!
Donna

Thanks, Donna! :)

Keeping the toothbrushes at the sink sounds like a great idea to me! I am usually in the kitchen in the morning when the children are done w/ their breakfast. It would be so handy to have the tooth brushes there to get the job done with mom's supervision!
Thanks 4 sharing!
Marlisa
Mom of 4, 2 and 8-mo. old
loving one moment at a time

Thanks, Marlisa! It's definitely been easier for me. It seems like we spend 80% of our day in the kitchen/dining area, anyway! :)

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