Sweeping away the “sugar buggies.” Playing “beat the timer.” Making funny faces. These are just some of the silly but effective ways you can get your child excited about taking care of their teeth. For many parents, teaching kids good dental hygiene is a twice-daily battle. But as experts point out, it’s a fight worth having. Though it’s largely preventable, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children aged 6-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to everything. We write a lot about this topic, because it’s so very important!
Here are six ways to make brushing and flossing a fun, and regular, part of your child’s daily routine!
Start the oral hygiene early.
It’s never too early to make brushing and flossing a part of your child’s morning and nightly routines. In fact, dentists recommend starting dental care even before your child’s first tooth arrives. During infancy, wipe down their gums nightly with a soft, damp cloth. Switch to a toothbrush when their teeth come in (usually around six months of age), and floss once teeth start touching (typically around age two or three). Schedule a visit to the dentist by the first birthday, regardless of how many teeth they have. (Simple mindfulness exercises can help soothe any pre-appointment jitters.)
Set a good example.
Children mimic their parents in every-day life, so let your child watch you brush and floss your teeth! Use exaggerated gestures and show them all the steps to tooth brushing. Finish the demonstration with a big smile and a sense of pride.When it comes to teaching good dental hygiene, practice what you preach. For added fun, pretend to be a mirror the next time you and your kid brush together, and encourage them to copy your every move.
Turn toothbrushing into a game.
Whether you’re 6 or 66, dentists recommend brushing teeth twice a day, for two minutes at a time. That’s because studies show that the longer you brush, the more plaque you remove, says Conicella. Try one of these creative games to help them meet the two-minute mark:
Set a timer. Overturn an egg timer filled with colorful sand, and challenge them to keep brushing until all the sand has reached the bottom. Or buy your child a toothbrush that blinks or plays music for two minutes.
Play their favorite song.
The free app Brush DJ plays tunes in your library for two minutes and – bonus – lets you set reminders to brush twice a day, floss, use a mouthwash, and visit the dentist.
Offer incentives. What kid doesn’t want to stay up a few minutes later at bedtime or be in charge of choosing the next movie for family night? Consider offering a simple reward or creating a rewards chart to encourage your little one to brush their pearly whites for two minutes. Don’t forget to praise them afterward for their amazing technique or super sparkly teeth.
Tell a story.
Create a story around tooth brushing – imagine if there is a silly animal they must brush out of their teeth every night! Let your child choose which animal and create a story about how this animal darts all over their teeth and tongue while you chase it with their toothbrush. This story is sure to bring giggles and excitement to the routine.
In fact, experts say using something relatable, like a story, is a great way to get reluctant brushers to participate. You can also try reading an age-appropriate book about taking care of your teeth or letting your child practice brushing their stuffed animal’s teeth.
Choose the right tools.
Brushing and flossing can be difficult for little hands. Opt for age-appropriate tools, such as toddler toothbrushes, flossers without sharp edges, and power toothbrushes, which experts say mimic little circles for accurate brushing. Small kids don’t have manual dexterity, so a power toothbrush gives kids the boost to get that plaque off. Tip: If your child is hesitant to try one, let them feel the vibration of the whirring bristles on the palm of their hand before starting. Also let your child pick out their favorite toothbrush and favorite flavor of toothpaste.
Creating a fun and engaging routine at home will ensure your child develops a lifelong habit of caring for their teeth. Brushing and flossing should be fun and simple and pain free. If you introduce flossing and brushing at a young age, kids will start to feel yucky if they don’t do it.
Our monthly contest
What better way to get kids excited about brushing than having them enter our contest?
Step 1: follow us on Facebook and Instagram!
Step 2: Snap a video of your kiddo brushing their teeth
Step 3: Post to Facebook or Instagram and make sure to tag @herschpediatricdentistry. If you have a private account, send us the video in a DM so your entry is counted!