In the perils of parenting, it is amazing how young children will do anything to make you happy – until you ask them to do it. When it comes to tooth care – this is an ongoing battle for many parents whether they have toddler to teens. And sadly, despite prevalent dental care and more information than ever about tooth decay and preventative oral health – children today are suffering. Much of the blame is placed on the parents and the question always returns to getting children to brush their teeth. The problem isn’t always getting them to do it, rather getting them to do it properly!
As soon as teeth erupt, you should begin taking care of the teeth. Overlooking the importance of baby teeth can lead to hefty problems later in life that can include the need for dental surgeries or orthodontics. One of the first factors in tooth care if fluoride and ensuring that your toddler gets enough. The next step is to influence proper brushing habits and techniques. Your toddler or child should brush their teeth at least twice a day. This should definitely occur before bed. If you begin at a very young age making tooth brushing a non-negotiable issue that occurs at the same time every day (like bedtime) then you will likely be better off. One creative way to do this is to start using toddler friendly toothpastes and brushes that are linked to your child’s interests. Go for the Dora or Diego toothbrush and toothpaste and your child may actually enjoy it. If this doesn’t work, those musical toothbrushes can also be a big help.
Young children will also do a more thorough job if they have a motorized toothbrush. Often, young children get cavities between the teeth because parents have a hard time reaching these areas properly. The vibrating toothbrush can help. If your child goes to bed with milk or juice, you are asking for trouble and getting your child to brush their teeth may not be the biggest issue. This habit should be broken as early in life as possible. Replace bottle of milk or juice with water instead.
Your child may be young, but they still can understand the importance of brushing. Try to talk them into brushing by mentioning the germ bugs that live on their teeth. You can also infuse lessons of oral health with healthy eating habits. Try to get them to understand that ‘sugar bugs’ live on their teeth and come from those tasty treats. Liken cavities to boo-boos and the toothbrush to the band-aid. Additionally, talk openly to your children about taking care of their entire body and that doing so is a large part of being a big kid. It may help to brush your teeth with your child so that they can learn how to do so properly by mimicking you. Many children may want to brush all by themselves and don’t want any assistance. Try to praise them for what they did do on their own, but make sure that you find a tactful and compassionate way to finish the job so you know its done right. You definitely don’t want to scare your child about the dentist however, and should avoid threats that not brushing will cause them to have to see the dentist. Instead, make the dentist sound like a fun place to go.
There are many parents who resort to rewards to get their children to brush their teeth. In many ways, this isn’t a bad idea. Yes, they should do it anyways – but oral health is a big factor in your child’s life and should be stressed. Give them a penny or dime (or a sticker for taking care of tooth brushing or for allowing their teeth to be brushed without a fuss. You can also work out a reward system that allows them to go to a special place after a month of good brushing. By making it fun and not causing a ruckus around their dental hygiene, the chances that it will be easy are high. Also, realize that if you act like a prison guard and become agitated or angry about tooth brushing, your child will likely react to your energy.
Getting children to brush their teeth can also be about timing. Yes, it should be done at bedtime – but trying to force a child to brush their teeth when they are exhausted is futile. Make sure they do it when they are eager to please and as part of their daily routine.
As your kids get older, you may think the battle over. Think again. Teens today are suffering from horrendous dental issues that are largely in part to the sodas and energy drinks that they often consume. When your kid gets older, they also get lazy and you may feel like you don’t have to monitor the brushing as well. Unfortunately, just because they spend an hour in the bathroom doesn’t mean that they are brushing properly. You obviously cannot do it for them at this age, but you will be the one paying for it should they not brush regularly. Make sure that you keep your child in a routine of cleanings so that you will be able to notice if their dental health is declining. Additionally, if your child drinks frequent sodas or juices – have them rinse with baking soda and water afterwards to limit the effect of acid on the teeth. Brushing after drinking soda will actually wear away the protective enamel more quickly than not brushing. Getting your older child to brush their teeth can also be about nagging them to do it. Who cares if they think you are being a pain in the butt, the bottom line at this age is you are dealing with adult teeth that will not fall out in a year or two (at least hopefully not).
Getting a child to brush their teeth can be about living by example as well. In homes where healthy habits are part of the day-to-day routine and where mom and dad are also conscientious – tooth brushing at every age will come easier. Remember, it is much easier to prevent dental problems in children than it is to deal with them. So do whatever it takes to make sure they get it done – and most importantly, get it done right!