Caring for your teeth at home is important – and that doesn’t start only once your permanent teeth come in! No, it’s just as important for kids to practice good dental hygiene as it is for teenagers or adults. For one thing, it helps them get accustomed to taking care of their teeth and making it a lifelong habit. For another, keeping baby teeth healthy lays a strong foundation for adult teeth, keeping growth on the right track and avoiding potential problems down the line. But kids are notoriously difficult when it comes to teaching them to brush their teeth every day – so what do you do? How do you make home dental care fun for kids?
Well, we’ve got a few ideas that might help you out on that. Read on for 6 ways to make your kids’ dental care routine fun!
We all know that kids will mimic their parents: this mimicking is an important development tool that your children use in learning how to be people and act in our society. This is one reason it’s so important to model positive behaviors for your child – and taking great care of your teeth at home is one of those positive behaviors! When you’re trying to get your kids to become good and faithful teeth-brushers, let them start learning how when you brush your own teeth. Make it a family affair and get everyone in on it with the whole family brushing their teeth at the same time. It will portray good dental care as a fun part of the day rather than a boring chore.
Here are some extra tips to keep your child engaged:
Don’t forget to model brushing your tongue and flossing your teeth, as well!
Being a little kid means not having a lot of control over your own life – as adults, we know that it’s for the child’s own good and safety. But try and remember how it felt when you were small and the world was large and you didn’t get to make many of your own choices. It can be a little scary! Especially when you’re told to put a stick in your mouth and rub your teeth with some weird foaming paste. So it’s important to tell your kids exactly why we brush our teeth and offer them some control – let them pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste.
There are a truly amazing number of choices in toothbrushes for kids these days, from traditional brushes in bright or soft colors to character-branded brushes (some of them even electric) that light up or make sounds. Encourage them to pick their favorite, and just make sure that their choice has bristles marked as “soft.”
You’ll need to offer a little more guidance in letting them choose their own toothpaste: make sure their range of choices is limited to those that are approved by the American Dental Association. Even with this restriction, there are a number of kid-friendly toothpastes available with flavors and textures more suited to a child’s sensitivities.
Tip: to limit your child’s accidental ingestion of fluoride from toothpaste, make sure to use only a grain of rice-sized amount of toothpaste up to their third birthday. From 3 to 6 years old, they should use a pea-sized amount of paste.
Remember what we said above about mimicry and choices? Children copy their parents and want to choose things for themselves because they’re trying to understand how they fit into the world. When you give them knowledge, you’re helping them fulfill that desire. So use the curiosity in that tiny voice always asking you “Why? Why? Why?” and tell them all the why’s of dental care!
You need to break it down in to terms they can understand depending on their age, of course. Luckily, there are resources out there to help you: look for educational books and videos that talk about tooth care in a playful way, then share them with your kids until you find one that captivates them. (YouTube can save the day here!) Reading these stories or watching these videos over and over again – maybe even during brushing time! – will keep your child involved and help them feel invested in the dental care process.
Even the worst chore can seem like it takes no time at all if you find a way to make it into a game – so use this to help your children adapt to practicing good dental hygiene! We all know that we should brush our teeth for at least 2 full minutes – which might seem like an eternity to your little kiddo. Define this time for them using either a visible timer or some sort of distraction.
Timer technique: you can get a minute-long sand timer with brightly colored sand, and encourage your kids to turn it over, watch the sand fall, and brush their teeth for two turns of the mesmerizing sand. Or find a song that your child loves that is about two minutes long and play it!
Distraction Tips: get creative with playful distractions! If using a short song as a brush timer, have a dance party – but only shake a little! Everyone does have toothbrushes in their mouths, after all, and falling could be dangerous. Or you might tell a short short story to your kid while they’re brushing – keep it interesting and keep the story going across multiple teeth-brushing events so they’re excited to brush and find out what happens next!
Positive reinforcement can sometimes be as simple as a fun sticker on a calendar tacked to the wall, and something as small as that can make teeth-brushing that much more kid-friendly. You can buy a special calendar for this purpose or even create one with your child: print a calendar off the Internet, then draw on it with markers to make it brighter and more fun. You can also define rewards for your kid successfully brushing their teeth for so many days in a row.
When deciding on rewards, it’s generally best to stay away from food-based reward unless there are healthy treats that your child really enjoys – perhaps a little fresh fruit. Better rewards are extra allowance money, a small toy they’ve been wanting, getting to choose a game in family game night, etc.
To keep your child on track to develop healthy dental care habits, you should also take your child to a pediatric dentist twice a year. Pediatric dentists have completed additional training in intense residency programs that provide them the training and experience necessary to treat children. Practices that provide specifically for kids tend to work hard at a kid-friendly atmosphere and employ staff trained to manage children’s behavior (from fear to aggression). Pediatric dentists also guarantee your child is seeing someone who knows how to treat young teeth, and are especially aware of the dental development cycle. With this kind of careful, friendly care, your kids have the best opportunity to develop positive associations with dentistry.
You’ll be happy to know that Dr. Waschak is a pediatric dentist himself with an office purpose-built with your child’s comfort in mind. When it’s time for your child’s next dental visit, give us a call at 541-435-2393 – we’d love to see their smile!