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4 Ways to Get Your Kids Interested in Dental Hygiene

Young girl brushes her teeth happily while her mother looks on approvingly.

Many aspects of your child’s overall health depend on good oral health. The development and function of their teeth help facilitate proper chewing, biting, speech, and breathing, as well as the healthy development of their jaw and facial structure.

Since baby teeth start falling out between the ages of 5 and 6, it can be tempting to postpone or even ignore potential problems. But bad oral health now, even at an early age, can have a detrimental “ripple” effect on your child’s long-term health, self-confidence, and ability to meet certain developmental milestones.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease—nearly 60% of 12- to 19-year-olds have at least one—and, in the U.S., they disproportionately affect poor, minority, young children. A quarter of the 2 to 5-year-old children from these groups experience 80% of dental disease, and kids with cavities or other dental health problems are three times more likely to miss school because of tooth pain.

Untreated cavities in baby teeth can also affect both the development and proper eruption of adult teeth. Tooth decay, if left untreated, can cause infection, gum disease, or even tooth loss. This can cause problems in the way the future adult teeth form and in their positioning when they finally come through the gum.

You know your child’s dental health is critically important, but, as with so many other things involving kids, it can be hard to get your little one’s cooperation in taking care of it. Convincing your child to take an interest in their dental hygiene may take a little coaxing and a little creativity, but it’s worth it in the long run to help them develop good healthy habits now that they can take with them for a lifetime.

Here are 4 tips to get your kids motivated to care for their teeth, as well as some ideas for how you can provide a little extra support.

  1. Make teeth cleaning fun.

Kids are more likely to do what you ask if there’s something in it for them. Start by letting them pick out their own toothbrush—maybe one with their favorite character or color—as well as their own flavor of toothpaste. (Adult flavors can be a little too strong for some little taste buds; just make sure it’s fluoride toothpaste.) To make sure they brush long enough, find or make up a song they can hum to themselves, or use a fun timer to keep them on track. There are great kid- friendly colors and flavors in mouthwash and easy-to-hold flossers, too, so kids can get excited about every step of the process.

  1. Make it easy.

Keep all of your child’s oral hygiene supplies easy to reach and easy to see, and make brushing part of their daily routine in a way that fits them best so it becomes an easy habit to keep. That may be right after they wake up in the morning or not until after breakfast, and it could be right before going to bed in the evening or after you’ve read a story first. Give your kids a say in when they brush their teeth, just as long as it’s twice a day for two minutes.

  1. Make it theirs.

Kids thrive when you give them autonomy and responsibility. You may have to prod them along, but let your child take an active role in their own oral hygiene. You’ll have to help them brush for a while, but let them have a turn either before or after you, and let them see how you’re doing it. Be sure to reward them for good behavior: maybe they remind you it’s time to brush, or they do their turn and follow the timer without having to be told. Use a sticker or other reward chart to help document how well they’re doing and to set challenges, like doing it for a certain number of days in a row.

  1. Make it about more than just brushing their teeth.

Good oral health is key to good overall health, and the sooner kids can make that connection, the better off they’ll be. Use brushing time to explain why teeth are important, and how other choices—like following a healthy diet low in sugar or avoiding pop and sugar—can not only help them take care of their teeth but of their bodies, too, so they can grow big and strong.

Here are some additional ways you can help set your child up for success in caring for their teeth:

Set the example. Practice what you preach. Show them good dental hygiene and overall health by doing it yourself. You can brush together, or at least let them watch what you do. Encourage them to drink water and use “big kid cups”; limit their exposure to soda, juice, and sugary drinks, and discourage them from walking around or sleeping with a bottle.

Fill them in. Going to the dentist can be scary to kids and adults. Talk to your child about who a dentist is and what they do, and enlist the help of material that’s already out there. There are a plethora of children’s books, animated shows, and apps that can explain the dentist to kids in a way they understand and enjoy.

Introduce them to a good pediatric dentist. The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends children receive an initial exam around six months after the eruption of their first tooth or at least by their first birthday, with routine visits scheduled every six months thereafter. While this first exam may not be a professional cleaning—it will likely just be a general evaluation to make sure everything is developing properly—it can be a good introduction to the dentist and the office atmosphere. Many pediatric dentists encourage these visits just as a chance to let the child meet them, practice sitting in the chair, and learn what the dentist does.

Trust Norman Smile Center with Your Child’s Teeth

The dentists at Norman Smile Center are committed to your child’s oral health, and that includes providing both of you with the time, attention, and compassion you deserve. We know our pediatric patients require a little extra care, so we’re always prepared to answer every question, calm every fear, and reward every positive experience. With an experienced team of dentists and hygienists, as well as state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, your child’s dental health is in good hands here at Norman Smile Center. Call us today at 405-329-6603 to schedule your child’s first appointment, or fill out our convenient online request form here. We can’t wait to meet you!