By Darla Scheidt
Cavities are the most common chronic childhood illness in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While tooth decay is largely preventable, many parents agree that getting a young child to practice good oral hygiene can be a big chore. The good news is that establishing healthy dental habits early is possible — and even fun — with a little extra time and effort.
Here are five easy ways parents can prevent childhood tooth decay and encourage good oral hygiene for their children.
1. Set a good example.
If mom and dad make it a priority to take care of their teeth every day, then so will their kids. Children love to imitate their parents, and when your kids see how consistent and thorough you are in your daily oral care, they too will be more motivated to clean their teeth and gums.
Brush and floss together in the morning and before bed to model proper oral hygiene. This will also alert you to any issues your child has with his/her brushing techniques. While small children can take a turn at brushing, dentists often recommend assisting your child until he/she is capable of brushing correctly on his/her own.
Parents should also talk to children about the importance of maintaining good oral health and preventing harmful cavities. This may include explaining best practices for cleaning teeth, as well as how eating a well-balanced diet can promote good dental and overall health. Talking about trips to the dentist positively will also help prevent any fears about future visits.
2. Let kids select their toothbrush.
Today you can find a variety of toothbrushes and toothpastes made specifically for kids. Let your child choose a soft, child-sized brush in his/her favorite color or character as an effective way to motivate brushing at home. Similarly, there are many kid-friendly types of toothpaste that come in fun colors and flavors to make brushing teeth more appealing.
3. Sing a song.
Effective tooth brushing requires a full two minutes, twice a day, says The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). That may seem like a long time for a small child, so to help pass the time, sing a song. The ABC’s is just one of many great tunes you can sing to help children brush for the required amount of time — not to mention it’s educational. You can also play your child’s favorite song or television show on the computer or smartphone as a fun way to ensure his/her teeth are cleaned for the full two minutes.
4. Play a game.
Sometimes incorporating a little fun into your daily routine is the best way to promote proper oral hygiene habits for your little one, especially if he/she is showing resistance. Play a game while he/she brushes, such as bubble making with your toothpaste, as an easy way to make brushing fun. Give your child a turn at brushing your teeth, or role-play tooth brushing with dolls and teddy bears for extra practice.
5. Reward good dental habits.
Some kids respond well to a reward chart as a good motivator for building healthy oral hygiene habits. Make a dental chart for the bathroom, and reward your child with stickers for good brushing and flossing. Once your child has reached his/her sticker goal, celebrate his/her good habits with a special treat, such as watching a movie or a trip to the zoo.
Like adults, children should visit the dentist every six months for routine cleanings and checkups. Not only will your child’s teeth and gums stay healthy, but he/she will also be less likely to develop more serious dental issues later in life. It is important to remember that a trip to the dentist can be scary. If your child has any fears, let the dental staff know so that they can take extra care to ensure your child feels comfortable and safe.
Ultimately, a parent’s goal should be to make oral care fun. Educating your child about good oral hygiene at a young age can help encourage healthy dental habits throughout your child’s lifetime. Even the most resistant kids will eventually understand that brushing teeth is a regular and necessary part of taking care of their whole body.
Darla Scheidt works at Grove Dental Associates as the Marketing Director. The dentists at Grove Dental have over 40 years of combined experience in the dental field and are focused on staying on the cutting edge of dentistry to better serve their patients.