When great dental habits start early they can last for an entire lifetime, so it’s important to start teaching children how to take care of their teeth as soon as their first pearly whites start growing in. Of course, it can be a challenge to show kids everything they need to know about dental health and hygiene. I’ve put together the following useful advice for setting up your children for a lifetime of dental health – and helping them have fun in the process.
Teaching the Proper Brushing Technique
One of the first personal care activities childredental healthn learn is brushing their teeth. However, even though they learn this skill early on, kids of all ages (and even some adults) need to make sure they’re using the correct brushing technique.
I encourage parents to continually emphasize the most important aspects of brushing – doing it for a full two minutes, using the right amount of toothpaste (no more than a pea-sized amount for kids 6 and under), and reaching all the important areas in the mouth (the fronts and backs of teeth and the tongue).
Mothers and fathers with younger children can take advantage of kids’ tendencies to imitate everything their parents do. Turn brushing into a fun family activity by brushing right alongside your child. Ask your child to copy you when you brush each section of your teeth and your tongue. If you’re not sure whether you’re brushing correctly, you can always ask one of the dentists or dental hygienists here at Village Dental for a quick refresher on brushing technique during your next appointment.
Many kids struggle to brush their teeth for the full two minutes that dental professionals recommend. To make the time fly while also making brushing more enjoyable, parents can play music while their kids brush. I encourage parents to use their kids’ favorite songs and ask children to brush until the song hits the two-minute mark. After a while your child will have a better sense of how long two minutes is, and she won’t need to use the music as a tool for timing purposes.
Making Sure Children Floss Regularly
Too many people mistakenly believe that flossing is something that only needs to be done every once in a while. However, everyone should floss at least once a day to remove plaque buildup between teeth and promote good gum health.
Another misconception is that flossing is only important once we get older. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Parents should start flossing their child’s teeth as soon as a child has two teeth that touch each other. Flossing can be a tricky skill for children to master, so parents should help until kids are able to sufficiently do it on their own – at around age 10.
If your older child has trouble remembering to floss on a regular basis, you can give her an incentive and a reminder by hanging up a calendar in the bathroom. Every time she successfully flosses, put a sticker on that calendar day. When she has earned a string of stickers straight in a row (perhaps after 14 days or one full month), she receives a reward, whether it’s a small toy or book, an outing of her choice or more TV time.
Mothers and fathers can also help children look forward to flossing time by associating this important activity with something exciting. Because it can take children a bit longer to floss than it takes adults, try making flossing time do double duty by reading or telling children a story while they floss. You can read from a book or tell a long story that picks up where it left off the night before, so kids won’t want to miss each night’s flossing session.
Encouraging Great Eating Habits
A major part of excellent dental health involves developing good eating habits. When moms and dads teach their kids to eat well, they’re setting them up to maintain healthy teeth and a healthy body for life.
To preventing tooth decay and gum disease, parents should avoid giving kids excessive amounts of candy, cookies, soft drinks and other foods that have high sugar contents. Certain sugary foods are especially damaging to teeth – sour candy can strip tooth enamel, sticky candy can get stuck on and between teeth, and hard candy or sugary gum stays in the mouth for a long time – giving teeth longer exposure to these potentially harmful foods.
Parents can encourage their children to eat these types of food and candy only in moderation. It can also be a good idea to encourage children to brush and floss immediately after consuming sugary or sticky food.
If you put out snacks for kids to eat between meals, opt for fruits (like apples and clementines), vegetables (celery and carrots) and other choices that are healthier for their bodies and for their teeth. Festive holidays can be especially challenging for mothers and fathers who want to keep their kids from munching on too many sugary treats. Make an effort to mix in plenty of fruits and healthy snacks into kids’ holiday stockings, Easter baskets and Halloween pails.
Just as there are foods that are bad for children’s’ teeth, there are also certain foods and drinks that promote great dental health. Foods with calcium (like dairy) and protein (like meat and fish) are important for maintaining strong teeth. An easy way to give children’s teeth a healthy boost is to give them tap water rather than bottled water. Most tap water contains fluoride, a mineral that can significantly reduce the incidence of tooth decay.
Scheduling Regular Dental Visits
Even the youngest child can learn to think of twice annual dentist visits as an important habit. A child should begin seeing a dentist within a few months of his first tooth growing in. Parents can teach children how important these visits are by scheduling them for the same time each year, so kids get used to the regularity of the appointment. Mothers and fathers can show kids that these regular visits aren’t just for children by keeping up with their own dental appointments.
Of course, one of the most common issues parents have is dealing with a child’s fear of the dentist. Fear of the dentist can be a problem in children who are visiting for the first time or for kids who have been going for quite some time.
Fortunately, there are a few things parents can do to ease a child’s anxiety. Sometimes children are most afraid because they don’t know what’s going to happen at the dentist, so you can start by encouraging your child to ask any questions he may have about what is going to happen during the visit. Take him through the steps of a basic check up, and consider doing some role play to get him comfortable with the idea of having his teeth cleaned by someone else.
Mothers and fathers can also help children put their fears aside by setting a good example. If a parent is experiencing anxiety about dental visits, children often pick up on those fears. Whenever you have an upcoming appointment, talk to your child about the experience in a positive and uplifting way. This will make dentist visits for your children go much more smoothly.
Helping Children Take Pride in Great Dental Health
While parents should never make kids feel bad if they have a cavity or other type of dental issue, they can give children positive feedback and encouragement for maintaining healthy habits or getting through a dental visit with a clean – or an improved – bill of health.
When kids begin brushing and flossing on their own, observe their dental hygiene routines and compliment them when they do an especially thorough job. Even when they no longer need to be observed, you can randomly take a look at their teeth after they’ve finished brushing and flossing to ensure that they’ve been thorough with their cleaning and to give them positive feedback.
This type of encouragement is especially helpful during a dental visit. When they’re waiting for their appointment to begin or going through the process of their check up, remind them that they’re doing great. If they get a report of “no cavities,” congratulate them on doing their part to keep up great oral health. This lesson will stick with them for a long time to come.
Parents can give kids even more tools to help them associate dental health with enjoyable activities. There many picture books, coloring books, puzzles and games (like word searches and crosswords) that have dental themes and can be used to reinforce excellent habits.
It’s never too late to instill great dental habits that can last a lifetime. With a little time each day, you can teach and demonstrate excellent dental cleaning practices and healthy eating on a regular basis. If you ever need more guidance, don’t hesitate to call or visit the friendly professionals at Village Dental.