How to Get Kids to Brush and Floss Their Teeth
Establish a Lifetime of Good Dental Health for Your Children
We all know that its important to brush and floss your teeth daily, but its often hard to get children to complete this simple task. Generally speaking, kids younger than age 6 will need parental assistance with brushing and flossing to ensure that it is done correctly. Once children reach school age, they can be expected to brush and floss independently morning and night.
But how can you get them to consistently do so without nagging?
Oral hygiene is more than just fresh breath and clean teeth. Good dental health is a cornerstone of personal care. As we get older, plaque can lead to gingivitis, which is characterized by bleeding gums, tooth decay, loss of teeth and even heart disease. Dental care is just as important for growing children as getting to the doctor for annual check-ups.
Encouraging children to develop thorough, consistent habits of brushing and flossing their teeth teaches self-respect, pride and responsibility. As a mom of four kids, ages 8-14, I've tried just about every trick in the book to get my children to learn dental hygiene. I take them to the dentist twice a year and am happy to report we haven't had any cavities for nearly 5 years in our family.
If it is a struggle in your home to get kids to brush and floss your teeth, you are not alone. Read on for some tips to help improve oral health in your family.
Make Brushing and Flossing Fun for Kids
Pediatric dentists and other experts suggest that children get used to having their teeth brushed as early as possible.
Before baby teeth even erupt, you can start good dental habits by gently wiping down gums with a clean, damp washcloth or a fingertip toothbrush. Move the washcloth or fingertip brush in a circular movement while singing a soft song. By the time your child has a few teeth, cleaning their mouth will have started to become habit.
When kids are old enough to brush their teeth - either on their own or with adult assistance, make the practice fun so you experience less resistance.
Here are some ideas that may encourage your children to enjoy brushing and flossing:
- Practice beforehand with an old toothbrush on a stuffed animal or doll
- Sing a fun "brush your teeth" song - make up silly words and dance along!
- Use a tooth brushing timer
- Consider chewable tablets that turn plaque pink, and then brush away the color with a toothbrush
- Get a character themed toothbrush and/or spin toothbrush
- Use flavored toothpaste (with your dentist's approval)
- Keep track of brushing and flossing with a star or reward chart
Brush Your Teeth Song to Encourage Kids
Dental Care for Babies and Kids
Establish a Reward System When your Kids Brush and Floss
Children as young as 2 may positively respond to a reward system for brushing and flossing. One of the easiest ways of keeping track of good dental hygiene habits is with a chart. When posted in the bathroom, it becomes a constant reminder for your kids to brush and floss their teeth.
Of course, children younger than 6 will need adult assistance to properly brush and floss. Even though you may be the one completing the task, rewarding your children for each day or week that they consistently care for their teeth can establish a good responsibility foundation for when they are older. My kids are now in elementary school and middle school, but we still keep a brushing and flossing reward chart for the youngest children!
With a reward system or chart, it is best to have your kids work toward non-food related goals, consistent with the purpose of establishing good dental hygiene. Consider offering an outing to a movie, a sleep-over with a friend, or a visit to Grandma's house as a reward for a certain number of days they remember to brush and floss. For younger children that are afraid of or resistant to having their teeth brushed, each week that they complete with your help may earn a small reward such as a coloring book or the opportunity to stay up 1/2 hour later one evening.
Pre-teens and teens have usually outgrown a reward chart, but you can still encourage them to brush and floss with incentives. My kids can earn up to $1 bonus "allowance" for every week that they brush, floss, wear their retainer/headgear and rubber bands on their braces without our reminding them.
Some dentists also reward children that have a no cavity check-up. Our pediatric dentist has a wall on which kids can put up a piece of paper with their first name that proclaims they have no cavities. Once a month, the dentist picks one name randomly and that child earns a $25 gift certificate of their choice.
Be a Model of Good Oral Hygiene Habits
Let's face it - kids want to do the same things that they see their parents or guardians do. By brushing and flossing daily yourself, and going to the dentist twice a year, you can be a model of good oral hygiene habits.
Invite your kids into the bathroom when you are getting ready in the morning or preparing to go to bed. Share your experiences after a visit to your own dentist with your family. When you show your children that you are consistently taking care of your own teeth, they may be more motivated to brush and floss - hopefully with less nagging!
Talk to Your Pediatric Dentist
It is important that you talk to your pediatric dentist about specific concerns related to your child's teeth. They may have recommendations to help address certain conditions such as a strong gag reflex, crooked or grooved teeth, or the child that consistently swallows toothpaste instead of spitting it out. Your dentist may also recommend a specific diet for your child, if necessary, such as avoiding gummy fruit snacks or eating low acid fruits and vegetables.
Regular dental visits for children are an important habit to establish along with daily brushing and flossing. Years ago, dentists did not see children for a first visit until they were at least 3 years old. Today, however, babies are encouraged to visit a pediatric dentist as early as age 1, as part of their overall health care.
If you have any questions, be sure to talk with your pediatrician who can likely recommend a good pediatric dentist in your area.