Do you remember when you first learned to brush your teeth?
For kids, learning a new healthy habit can be tough. Luckily, with the right tips and tricks, you can make tooth-brushing--and dental hygiene in general--easy to learn by making the process FUN!
February is National Children's Dental Health Month. This month, take some time to evaluate your kids' dental hygiene, and take steps to teach new, healthy skills.
Dental Health for Babies
Babies don't have teeth yet--so do we really need to worry about their dental hygiene? The short answer is "yes." Because babies rely on their parents for feeding and cleaning, they are at a higher risk for the development of harmful bacteria.
- Prevent "baby bottle tooth decay." After feeding your baby, make sure to gently wipe down their gums with a soft cloth. This prevents the buildup of harmful bacteria that causes tooth decay, especially as baby teeth rise closer to the surface!
- Schedule Baby's First Dentist Appointment. The general rule of thumb is to schedule your child's first dentist appointment after their first birthday, or after their first tooth appears--whichever comes first.
- When they arrive, brush teeth twice a day. Most baby teeth erupt before a child is old enough to learn how to brush on their own. To that end, once your child starts showing teeth, make sure you're brushing them yourself with a pea-sized drop of fluoride free toothpaste twice a day.
Dental Health for Toddlers
Walking, talking toddlers are a handful--but they're also eager and ready to learn! Most kids have all of their baby teeth (or primary teeth) by the age of three. When your child is ready to learn how to brush for themselves, take the opportunity to teach healthy habits!
- Let kids pick out their own routine. It can be tough to get kids invested in their own dental health, but giving them the power of choice can make it an easier battle. For example, have your kids pick out their own toothbrushes, their favorite flavor of toothpaste, and a flosser in their favorite color. Giving kids the power to choose HOW they brush their teeth automatically makes them feel like they're more in control of the process.
- Make tooth-brushing fun. Are there sugar bugs hiding in your teeth? Is your kids' favorite song two minutes long? What shapes and letters can you make while you're brushing your teeth? "Gamifying" the process of tooth-brushing has the double-sided effect of making dental hygiene fun while also boosting your kids' memory skills. Some parents have great success making a game out of the tooth-brushing routine: brush during the commercials of your favorite show, race against a colorful two-minute timer, or tell a story filled with exciting twists and turns as kids chase a sugary villain around their teeth with the brush. Have a giggle and try Elmo Teeth Brushing music video.
- Stay away from sugary drinks and foods. This one is especially important as kids go through the transition between baby teeth and adult teeth. Sugary foods and drinks are awful for our teeth, and many dark sodas or candies can cause issues like stains and tooth decay. When in doubt, spit it out! (Well maybe swallow and rinse with water ) Also, juice is a favorite beverage for kids, but fruit and a glass of water is a better choice. Peditricians recommend "no fruit juice" for children under the age of 1 and especially not in baby bottles or sippy cups. Fruit drinks should be avoided altogether.
Dental Health for Older Kids
As kids start school, make friends, and grow taller, dental hygiene becomes even more important. Brushing, flossing, and having good breath are all critical to ensuring things like confidence, not just dental health.
- For athletes, invest in a good mouth guard. If your child plays a team sport like football or rugby, make sure their mouth is protected while they play. A bite guard or mouth guard helps keep teeth in place and protected when things get rough!
- Get evaluated for braces. Many kids start with braces in late elementary school or early middle school. Keep up with dentist's appointments every six months, and ask regularly about orthodontics, especially as your kids start to lose their baby teeth and grow in adult teeth.
- Confidence starts with a smile! As kids get older, they tend to care more about their appearances. Good breath, a shiny smile, and food-free gums all help build confidence when interacting with other people. Flossing is especially important for older kids and kids with braces, as cleaning between teeth and around braces helps prevent cavities and avoid "brace stains" later in the process.
What's the most creative way you've ever heard someone teach their kids about dental hygiene?