If you have kids, you know how exhausting it can be to keep them on track. Do your homework, pick up your clothes, put your shoes away. No matter how old they are, there are some reminders children never stop needing.
When it comes to their health, however, you don’t want to leave anything to chance. Giving your kids a great start on a lifetime of good oral health is one of the best gifts you can give them. If you want to do more to inspire your kids to take better care of their teeth, these ideas can help you make your children more active and empowered caretakers of their smiles.
If your parental guidance on oral health has been limited to a nightly reminder to “brush your teeth!” then these tips are for you.
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Kids Learn by Imitation
Speaking, cooking, tying their shoes—kids learn everything by watching you do it first. We always recommend parents of young children brush their teeth in tandem with their kids, so they have a model to follow. Children naturally play ‘follow the leader’ and copy the brushstrokes and patterns you show them.
If you suspect your older kids have gotten a bit lazy with their brushing and flossing, take the time to model good brushing with them again. Don’t be afraid to coach them and narrate what you’re doing. Brushing your teeth out of habit gets boring for kids (and adults too)—that’s why kids moan about having to brush their teeth.
Break up the boredom with some tandem brushing, no matter how old they are. Follow up with modeled flossing, as well, and coach your kids through their own daily flossing routine. You don’t have to do this every night, but you’d be surprised how much a once-per-week oral hygiene coaching can do!
Knowledge is Power
The best way to make children more intrinsically motivated to take good care of their teeth is to empower them with knowledge. If a child understands what’s really happening in his or her mouth, brushing and flossing will take on a whole new meaning.
Know which foods are worst for the teeth (starchy, sugary, and acidic foods), and share this information in graphic detail. If your child is snacking on potato chips or candy, tell him the dirty details of what’s happening in his mouth on a microscopic level.
For example: Do you know what happens when you eat foods like that? The food sticks to your teeth and the bacteria that live in your mouth feast on it and multiply. When they eat the sticky food residue, they excrete acids (yes, they poop acid) that can demineralize your tooth enamel and start cavities.
The language you use will vary based on your kids’ ages and vocabulary, of course, but illustrating the realities of oral health and hygiene will help them be more motivated to keep their teeth clean.
On the flip side, use knowledge to encourage your children to eat mouth-healthy foods as well. Crunchy fruits and vegetables, (like apples, raw broccoli and celery) can help keep the teeth clean between brushings. Their texture can actually scrub plaque and bacteria from the teeth while they chew them. A factoid like creates a visual image that leaves an impression.
The Right Tools Can Help
If you suspect your kids’ oral hygiene has devolved into a token effort, give them the tools to make sure they do a thorough job, every time.
- Buy a small timer for the bathroom and teach your child how to set it, so they can make sure they brush for a full two minutes each time. (Most kids love buttons and beeps, right?)
- Small children love to pick out their own toothbrushes with their favorite cartoon characters or superheroes on them. Whatever you can do to make them look forward to tooth-brushing time is a win.
- If your older kids love music, let them pick a song for you to play while they brush their teeth.
- Big or small, most kids can find flossing a challenge. Loose floss can be hard to manipulate, so try out many types of handheld pre-loaded flossers to find out which is the easiest for your child to use.
- Let children pick out their own age-appropriate toothpaste whenever possible. You probably have a preference in the flavor and consistency of your toothpaste, so give your children the same control.
Stay Involved, at Every Age
Ultimately, oral hygiene is like everything else your children have to do. If you just tell them to “do it,” you’re going to see mixed results. Like homework and chores, you have to monitor your children from time to time, to make sure they are doing a good job. As kids turn into teens they are usually less receptive to monitoring, and you may need to sit in on dental appointments in order to find out how things are going.
Parenting is hard, but oral hygiene is pretty simple:
- Brush twice a day for two minutes, using a fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Floss at least once a day.
- Avoid or limit the foods that contribute to decay (starches, refined flours and sugars, acidic foods).
- See your dentist every six months for a dental cleaning, exam, and preventive treatments.
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