Every parent knows oral hygiene habits like brushing teeth and flossing can make kids fussy. Trying to brush your child’s teeth twice a day can seem like a daunting task and many parents consider giving up if their kids start to put up resistance around brushing time. However, it is essential to build a good oral hygiene routine for your child when they are young so that they can build good habits to take into adulthood. So, what can parents do to try and encourage good brushing and dietary habits in their kids?
Brushing consistency creates oral hygiene habits
Keep the routine going. It is important to reinforce the oral hygiene habit of having your child brush their teeth twice a day. If your young child starts to see that brushing is negotiable, or not consistent, they may deem it not important and may look to skip it.
If it is built as a routine, however, then kids may become less resistant to it and see brushing as something they just do in the morning when they wake up and right before bed.
This is especially helpful if you have more than one child. The younger child can see the older child performing the routine twice a day and they will come to learn that this is what bigger kids do and they should do it too. If they see their older sibling skipping brushing, it may set a negative example for them and influence their own brushing routine.
How can I get my child to floss?
Kids should start to floss once their teeth start to move close together, creating a space where toothbrushes have difficulty reaching. This is usually between the ages of 2 and 6. Keep in mind that flossing is not an easy habit to learn for kids and adults alike, and young kids will always need your help to floss their teeth.
This means that parents need to take a lead role in developing good flossing habits in their kids. Remember, you can always floss first before brushing because flossing is good for removing food and plaque that is stuck between teeth, and then brushing can do the final cleaning and remove everything that has been loosened.
When flossing your child’s teeth, gently move it against the sides of each tooth in order to scrape away the plaque. Make sure you have a good angle so that you can see what you are doing so as not to floss too hard on the gums.
If your child’s mouth has some bleeding due to flossing, this is normal until their gums heal from inflammation-causing plaque and bacteria in 2 weeks. However, if there is constantly bleeding, you should book an appointment with your pediatric dentist to ensure there are no larger issues to address.
Motivating your child to floss can be a difficult task because it is seen as more time consuming than brushing. Again, the important part is for parents to set the right example and build a routine where flossing once a day is expected and your child will become accustomed to it.
Praise and rewards can help develop oral hygiene habits
If your child takes initiative and starts to brush on their own or reminds you that it is time to help them brush their teeth, let them know you are proud of them. It is important to reinforce positive feelings towards oral hygiene in your child. One good method of reinforcing good habits is to keep a calendar in the bathroom next to the sink, and to give a sticker every time your child brushes. This gives them something to look forward to and allows them to see visual progress on their calendar.
For younger kids, let them do the brushing first and then you can help finish the job. This allows them to build some independence and practice their brushing, and then allows you to ensure it is properly done as well. As time goes on, you will find that your child will start to perform more of the brushing than you do. This demonstrates good progress and shows that they are learning how to care for their own teeth. Pediatric dentists recommend parent supervision of brushing until the age of 8.
In terms of rewards, never use food as a reward. It is not a good idea to teach your child that snacks or unhealthy foods are meant as a reward for good oral hygiene practices. This creates a harmful relationship between them and unhealthy food where they see it as something they get when they are good. Food should be seen as an everyday part of life for good nutrition and sustenance.
This doesn’t mean that you can never give your kids junk food or dessert. The goal is simply to avoid associating good behaviour with unhealthy food and the precedent that this can set in your child’s mind.
Some non-food rewards you can use as a parent to reinforce positive dental hygiene practices by your kids include stickers, new toothbrushes, verbal praise or extra stories at bedtime. These are just examples. Remember, every family is different and may approach their habit building in their own unique way.
Avoiding bad dietary habits
Some of the worst types of food for your child’s teeth are actually liquids such as juice and soda. This is especially true before bedtime, where the sugars from these liquids can remain on the teeth overnight and do damage.
As a rule, you should never give your kids sugary liquids before bedtime. For babies who nurse before bedtime, you can always wipe their gums with a wet cloth to remove the liquid. For older kids, try to offer water instead of sugary drinks if they are thirsty. It is important to create a link between ‘feeling thirsty’ and ‘drinking water’ in your child’s mind. Associating thirst with water not only creates good hydration practices, but it helps to keep soda and juice away from your child’s everyday routine.
One interesting item to also note is that dehydration can lead to bad breath. If you notice your child has recurring bad breath, try increasing how much water they are drinking to determine if this is the cause.