February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and we are fortunate to have Natalie Rogers, DMD contributing all month long to help parents and caregivers protect their children’s smiles as they grow. Read Dr. Rogers’ previous post on Dental health basics parents need to know.
Getting your child to brush their teeth is rarely easy at any age. The best advice I can give to any parent is to start young and make it a routine. Like everything else, if can get your child to expect it and realize that brushing is a daily requirement, then it will become a much easier endeavor.
Needless to say, if we can somehow turn brushing our teeth into a fun experience this process becomes significantly easier. Overall, your goal should be to acclimate your child to brushing at a young age by making it both a positive experience and habitual. With any luck, by the time they reach those teenage years they won’t realize what you’ve fooled them into doing!
Here are 8 tips, tested on my very own children, to turn this hygiene routine into a small party with your little one.
1 - Sing a song – All toddlers have a favorite song. Let them pick. It can be different every night. ABC’s, Old McDonald, Itsy Bitsy Spider. Just remember to sing slowly so you get to that 2 minute mark, or at least do a repeat!
2 - Use a disclosing solution – Disclosing solution is a rinse or a chewable tablet that discolors all of the plaque in your mouth. This can help motivate your children by showing them all of the plaque that has accumulated on their teeth during the day. Let them see the effects of brushing by comparing what they see before and after brushing. Make a game of getting all of the discoloration off! Disclosing solution is available in the oral health care aisle of most supermarkets or drug stores.
3 - Educate them – The danger of “Cavity bugs” is unlikely to do much to convince a disagreeable teenager to brush and floss, but for some kids it can go a long way. Take the time to explain to them what cavities are, how they form and what you can do to prevent them. Make sure they understand the long term effects of decay as well, such as losing your teeth.
4 - Offer a prize at the end – This may be too much for a day to day basis, but create a long term goal. Set up a chart and mark off every time you are able to brush their teeth without trouble. Make an agreement with your child beforehand, such as 30 brushes means one new toy.
5 - Make it fun – As you well know, there are smartphone aps for everything, including brushing teeth! Most of these come with some variety of a timer and direction to help kids. All of them are fun and enjoyable in their own way. Some of my free personal favorites include Talking Ginger, Time2Brush, and Toothsavers. You should certainly feel free to seek some out yourself; there are tons!
6 - Let kids chose their own toothpaste or toothbrush – Definitely make sure you are using an age appropriate brush and paste, but even then there are tons of characters and flavors for children to pick from. Small details can go a long way with motivating a little one.
7 - Brush with your kids – Make it a family affair! Like most things, if they see you brushing, they are more likely to be willing to do it themselves.
8 - Positive reinforcement and praise – Be quick to hand out a “great job!” or a high five once brushing is over. A little encouragement can go a long way. Never underestimate what a smile from a parent can do for their child.