To millions of parents with young children, it’s no secret—teaching your kids to take care of their teeth can be a challenge. Whether it’s saying no to sugary snacks or fighting to brush their teeth, trying coax cooperation from your little one can be downright daunting. However, your child’s overall health depends on his or her oral health, so it’s more than worth it to make the effort.
Because it has an impact on physical, mental, and physiological development, oral health in children has been linked to everything from performance in school to personal and professional success later in life. Early decay and infection that goes untreated can cause gum disease, tooth loss, improper bone and jaw development, and problems with speech, eating, or even breathing, all of which can have a detrimental “ripple” effect on your child’s self-confidence, long-term health, and ability to meet important milestones.
“Children are especially vulnerable to oral health problems like dental cavities,” says Dr. Kristen Campbell, DDS, of Norman Smile Center. “Not only do small children lack the dexterity and discipline to brush properly and regularly, but they are also often eating or drinking foods and beverages high in sugar.”
While cavities and tooth decay are highly preventable with good preventive care including daily brushing and routine visits to the dentist, the trick is getting your kids to get on board with taking care of their dental health.
According to Dr. Campbell—who has nearly 15 years of experience working with pediatric patients and their parents—it doesn’t take fancy products or elaborate gimmicks to help your kids establish good oral hygiene routines. “If you can make taking care of their teeth even a little fun,” she says, “they’ll be more excited to do it.”
Here are 8 fun ways to help teach your kids about good oral hygiene.
1) Take advantage of curated content.
From books and cartoons to YouTube videos, apps, and games, there is a plethora of dental health content designed specifically for kids.
- Sit down with your child to read about Curious George going to the dentist or see what Dr. Seuss has to say about teeth in The Tooth Book.
- Download a kid-friendly dental hygiene-themed game for your smartphone or tablet.
- Download the Disney Magic Timer app from Oral B, so your kids can brush alongside their favorite Disney, Marvel, or Star Wars characters.
- Visit websites like PBS Kids—which boasts an entire section devoted to dental health and delivered by favorite characters like the Sesame Street crew, Daniel Tiger, or Clifford the Big Red Dog—or the American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy Kids page, which offers games and activities for learning about oral health, as well as tips for parents.
2) Use science.
This fun and easy experiment can help your child make sense of what happens to their teeth when they brush (or when they don’t).
- Have your child place a hard-boiled white egg (which represents their teeth) into a cup or bowl.
- Pour liquid like juice, soda, or vinegar over the egg. (You can also do this with three separate eggs, and do one cup or bowl for each liquid.)
- Let the egg soak overnight.
- In the morning, remove the egg from the liquid and ask your child to describe what it looks like. Soda and juice will stain the egg’s shell, while more acidic liquids like vinegar will make the shell soft and squishy. Explain to your child that this is what happens to their teeth when they drink a lot of beverages that aren’t healthy for them and then don’t brush their teeth.
- Give your child a toothbrush with toothpaste to scrub the egg clean, and explain that this is why brushing their teeth is important.
3) Play games.
Games are a great way to get your kids excited about oral hygiene. You can:
- Challenge them to see if they can brush their teeth for a whole two minutes. Kids love to hear, “Ready…set…go!” If you have more than one kiddo, have them challenge each other to see who can brush the longest.
- Have them use a mirror while they brush and ask them if they can count and brush every tooth.
- Play Simon Says. Simon can say to start or stop brushing, rinse and spit, or even brush their tongue.
- Pretend like you have no idea how to brush your teeth and ask your child to teach you. You can do silly things like try to eat the bristles or use the wrong end of the toothbrush.
4) Make a craft.
Crafts give your child a chance to learn about oral hygiene while getting creative (and messy). You can:
- Make a mouth. Cut a circle out of pink construction paper and fold it in half. Add a half circle of red for a tongue, then let your child glue mini marshmallows all around the edge of the circle like teeth. Fold it in half, and you have a mouth!
- Help your child get comfortable with a toothbrush by letting them “paint” with one. Give your kiddo an old toothbrush and water-based paint or even shaving cream and let them go crazy on a toothy coloring page.
- Draw or write numbers or letters with a dry erase marker on a white plastic ice cube tray. Turn it upside down to look like teeth, then have your child “clean” the teeth with something soft.
5) Just play.
Pretend play is a big part of how kids learn, so encourage them to learn about oral hygiene through play. Have them practice brushing the teeth of their favorite doll, action figure, or stuffed animals. You can also teach them to floss by pushing PlayDoh into the top of a Duplo or other big Lego brick, then having them use a piece of yarn to get the PlayDoh out.
6) Make it special.
Make oral hygiene more fun by making it a special time for your kiddo. You can:
- Keep a special stool or step by the sink that’s just for them to use when they brush their teeth.
- Let them pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Let them brush their teeth in your bathroom just like Mom and Dad.
- Play a favorite song while they brush.
- Use a fun chart that helps them keep track and build a habit. Let them color a box or put on a sticker every time they brush their teeth.
7) Make oral hygiene part of their everyday world.
From including brushing in their morning and bedtime routines to talking about healthy food choices on a trip to the grocery store, making oral hygiene a priority makes it easier to manage and easier to maintain for the rest of their life. You can:
- Discuss what kinds of snacks are better for their teeth and can help them grow big and strong and offer them water instead of sugary juices or soda.
- Let them see you taking good care of your teeth and mouth
8) Pick a kid-friendly dentist.
You can also make oral hygiene fun for kids by making their visits to the dentist fun. Dentists who work with pediatric patients typically go above and beyond to make a child’s experience a positive one. In addition to a bright and engaging environment, kid-friendly dentists offer opportunities for rewards like stickers and prizes after cleanings, x-rays, exams, or for having no cavities. They have experience in treating young, nervous patients and can offer a variety of methods to make good oral health easier for your child, such as silver diamine fluoride (SDF) for pediatric cavities and fluoride treatments and sealants for cavity prevention.
Make Oral Hygiene Fun for Your Child with Norman Smile Center
At Norman Smile Center, we understand that everything is easier when it’s fun, and that’s why our all-women team of dentists, hygienists, and office staff go the extra mile to make sure your child’s visit to our office is a positive and memorable one. We know our pediatric patients—and their parents—require a little extra care, so we’re always more than happy to answer every question, calm every fear, and reward every little win. Led by Drs. Kristen Campbell and Donna Sparks, the team at Norman Smile Center is committed to your child’s oral health and providing both of you with the time, attention, and compassion you deserve.
Norman Smile Center is always welcoming new patients. Call us today at 405-329-6603 to schedule your child’s appointment, or fill out our convenient online request form. We can’t wait to meet you!