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Teaching your child to brush his or her teeth can be a hassle. Much like taking baths and eating their vegetables, brushing teeth is one of those activities that kids rarely greet with excitement and cooperation. While it may seem easy to just let them not brush their teeth when they’re little – baby teeth just fall out anyways, right? – the oral hygiene habits that they develop as children can greatly impact their oral health as adults. Since baby teeth are essentially placeholders for adult teeth, poor care of the baby teeth can result in adult teeth coming in crookedly and eventually lead to the ever-dreaded braces.
So how do you make your child enjoy brushing their teeth? How do you make them see the benefit when warnings of cavities aren’t enough to convince them? The trick is to make brushing their teeth a fun activity that is part of their daily routine.
Try “playing” toothbrush. Take a new toothbrush and incorporate it into their play time. Have them brush their toys’ teeth and practice how it’s done. You can also brush their arms or legs and ask if that’s how you brush, prompting them to tell you how to correctly brush.
- Let them brush your teeth. While this probably doesn’t sound enticing, letting your child brush your teeth while you giggle and joke throughout it can help show them that brushing teeth isn’t all that scary. Plus, it reverses the power dynamic in your relationship, letting them feel like they’re in charge of something for once.
- Consider skipping the toothpaste. When children are young, using toothpaste isn’t a high priority, especially since it can make brushing teeth all that more uncomfortable for your child. In their early years, skip the toothpaste and just have them practice brushing.
- Sing along. Pick your child’s favorite nursery rhyme or sing-along song and sing it while they brush. Not only will it make brushing more enjoyable, but your child will know that the brushing ends when the song is over. As your child gets older, try picking a lengthier song to increase the time that they brush.
- Try different toothpastes. They make toothpastes that are specifically designed for children as they taste sweeter and are often fluoride-free since kids will often swallow the toothpaste. Try different flavors until they find one they like.
Encourage your child. When your child successfully brushes their teeth, compliment them. Give them positive reinforcement to encourage them to keep brushing their teeth.
- Make it a priority. Make brushing teeth a routine activity that your child gets used to doing in the morning, at night, and – per your discretion – after every meal. If it becomes a habit, they’re less likely to think about it and more likely to just do it.
- Make it a family activity. Kids mirror everything their parents do, so if they see you brushing your teeth regularly, it will encourage them to do the same.
- Use brightly colored or fun-looking toothbrushes. Kids are visually stimulated and therefore attracted to things that are more brightly colored or remind them of toys. If they have a toothbrush that they enjoy using, it will be easier to convince them to use it.
- Pretend like you love it. If nothing else works, have your child in the room while you and the rest of your family brush your teeth and make a show of how much fun you are having. Children don’t like missing out, so whether or not they enjoy it, they’ll pretend they do so they can be part of the fun.
The main thing to remember when teaching your child to brush is patience. The worst thing you can do for your child is hold them down and force-brush their teeth – think about how traumatizing it would be if someone did that to you. Instead, encourage them with positive reinforcement and, if necessary, give them little bribes to help them develop proper hygiene habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. It may be a hassle, but good practices early on will pay off in the long run.
There will be many more to come, stay tuned to Dr. Kami Hoss blog.