“Teach your children well,” sang Crosby, Stills and Nash in the sixties. That’s timeless advice for parents. But when it comes to helping kids take an active role in maintaining healthy teeth and gums, teaching them well can be challenging. The key lies in helping kids to adopt good oral hygiene habits at an early age—the kind of habits that can lead, not just to a healthier smile, but to greater confidence, self-esteem and all-around better health throughout their lives. With that in mind, here’s a list of 5 tips parents can use to teach their children preventive dental care.
1. Start Young: There’s no better time to start teaching your child good dental habits than when that first tooth appears. Make a big deal out of the tooth’s arrival and introduce your child to a soft toothbrush that he or she can use, with your help, to keep the tooth clean and shiny. Studies have shown that early adapters are more apt to continue practicing good dental hygiene throughout their lives.
2. Establish a Routine: The ultimate goal in teaching children proper dental hygiene is to turn a healthy practice into a habitual behavior. And habits are created through repetition. Routine sessions at the bathroom sink—after breakfast and before bedtime—where you and your child brush your teeth together will provide powerful and positive reinforcement. The key is to be consistent so that your child will become accustomed to the process. Then, as the child grows older, he or she will more readily accept other preventative practices such as flossing.
3. Make it Fun: Sink sessions with your child will become a lot more effective and enjoyable if you make them fun. Making a game out of simple tasks, such as putting toothpaste on a brush (making the worm sit on the fence) or counting down swishes before the big spit can help make daily dental hygiene something that both you and your child will look forward to.
4. Pay a Visit to the Dentist Before Problems Arise: Fearing the dentist is not something kids are born with. More often than not, well-meaning parents who have their own issues with “the big scary chair” end up passing their fears onto their kids. To ensure that your child develops a healthy outlook regarding the dental experience, take him or her on a visit to the dentist before a problem arises. Most dentists will be more than happy to arrange for a quick visit with your 2 or 3-year-old child. A great time to schedule your child’s visit is when you or other family members already have an appointment. Then it seems like a normal thing for everyone to do. The dentist or the dental hygienist can congratulate your child on their very first visit to the office, let them sit in the big chair, and count their own teeth in the special mirror. Most likely, your child will leave the office with a colorful assortment of tooth care products and positive memories that will remain when the need for a real dental visit arises.
5. Teach by Example: As parents, the best way to teach a child positive behavior is to exhibit that behavior in our own actions. After all is said and done the plain and simple truth is that teaching your child to be proactive in practicing good oral hygiene for life is something that needs to begin in your own mirror.
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Author Bio: Dr. Nathan Tanner was born in Hawaii and grew up in San Diego. After attending BYU on a music scholarship and attaining a BS in Zoology with minors in chemistry and music, he graduated with honors from OHSU dental school. While Practicing in his dental office in Portland he taught courses in cosmetic and pain-free dentistry one day a week at the dental school. He currently resides in Billings, Montana with his wife Rachel and three children. Dr. Tanner is the owner of Grand Avenue Dental Care.