Getting your kids to brush their teeth is a battle. Getting them to brush thoroughly and floss every day can be a war. But positive reinforcement by parents and fun brushing tools can secure this important life skill in your child's arsenal.
Get Off on the Right Tooth
“I believe general dentists overlook the psychological impact that they can have on a child's dental health for their entire life," says Dr. Edward Alvarez, DDS, a New York City dentist. "I often see adults who had very poor experiences with their dentists as children and avoided going to the dentist as an adult."
With that in mind, look for a dentist who:
- Has a tailored approach to treating children vs. adults.
- Respects a child's fear of the unknown and is patient.
- Welcomes questions and answers them clearly to put the child at ease.
- Demonstrates proper brushing and flossing techniques.
- Gives fluoride treatments.
- Offers sealants as protection against cavities.
- Is patient with parents too.
It doesn't hurt to choose a dentist who focuses on that all-important requirement that kids have—fun. Whether it's pictures of cartoon characters on the wall, sky and cloud decals on the ceiling, creative toothpaste flavors, or silly names for the tools being used, every small effort makes a big difference when treating a child. “One of the biggest benefits in treating children is that you can make your child patient into a very healthy adult patient who embraces dental health," says Alvarez.
Children with diets high in sugar, combined with poor oral health habits, are absolutely at greater risk for developing cavities. When you're heading to the produce department, rely on bananas and avocados. Choose whole grains. Serve plenty of lean meats and offer nuts, veggies, and cheese as healthy snacks. As for beverages, stick to water and milk. Keep the sweet snacks at a minimum and remember that chocolate is friendlier to teeth than any hard candies which give tooth enamel a sugar bath. Zollipops are an all-natural, sugar-free candy that contains xylitol, the same ingredient that makes most dentists recommend sugar-free gum to help prevent cavities.
Choose the Right Tools
Heavy-handed brushing can damage gums and teeth. A battery-powered toothbrush is gentler on teeth and can encourage more thorough and longer brushing (while also discouraging chewing on bristles or sucking the toothpaste off). After all, what kid doesn't like a whirring tool that's all theirs? Choose their favorite cartoon character or opt for an antimicrobial toothbrush like Mouth Watchers. Don't forget floss! Choose handheld flossers designed especially for kids, which are available in fun shapes and scents.
Make it easy and fun for kids to brush. Modern children rely on technology almost as much as adults. Find an app that they like to help them brush for two minutes every morning and night. Some faves include Talking Ginger (good for the very young) or the Toothsavers brushing game (unlock levels the longer you brush).
Set a Good Example
Your own oral health habits as a parent make a difference. Your child will watch you brush and floss and want to be just like you. Your attitude about going to the dentist is also important – try not to pass any of your own dental phobias onto your kids. Be proactive about oral health care, and don't just see the dentist when there is a problem.
Dr. Gary Glassman, a Toronto-based oral fitness expert, recommends the following best practices:
- Brush baby teeth twice daily as soon as they emerge.
- Never let your baby or young child go to bed with a milk or juice bottle.
- Never dip a pacifier in sugar.
- Use fluoride toothpaste designed for kids.
- Supervise your child's teeth brushing until they are old enough to understand the benefits of good oral health care and hygiene.
- Visit the dentist every six months.
- Brush twice daily.
- Floss before bed.
Oral health is an integral part of overall health and well-being. Set your child up for a lifetime of good teeth and beautiful smiles by choosing the right dentist, foods, and cleaning tools.