By: Dr. Kenneth Mak
My guess is that you’d be happy if you never had to say it again.
But given the fact that your kids’ oral health important to you, you’re probably willing to do whatever you have to do to help them stay on top of it.
Ideally, your children should learn how to stay on top of it themselves. And if that’s your goal, you have to be proactive about teaching them the right way. Fortunately, there are lots of fun and creative strategies you can use that will help your little ones get better at looking after their smile.
1. Cool Tools
The importance of fun dental care tools cannot be overstated. I recommend letting your kids pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste and to even make the choosing feel like a fun activity akin to picking out a toy.
Are there 2 toothbrushes they can’t decide between? Great, get both and then designate one as the morning toothbrush and one as the nighttime one. And make sure that they like the taste of the toothpaste. If you get one that turns out to be not so good, buy a new one. The $3 you’d save is not worth the struggle.
When it comes to floss for kids, go for the floss picks – they’re easier to use and are available in fun shapes, colors and flavors. Or, you can even pick up a water flosser, which might be the easiest and most fun way to reach all the nooks and crannies. The point is to make brushing time fun – the more enjoyable it is, the less you’ll have to push, prod and beg.
2. Tracking Systems
Make your child’s oral care visible, trackable and rewardable. Use cute charts to help you and them keep track of their teeth hygiene tasks. For example, you could put a chart on the bathroom mirror or wall that’s broken down into morning and night of each day of the week – have lines for brushing, flossing and rinsing, and let kids check off each task as they go.
The next logical step is to build in a reward system for success. So, when each task is done every morning and every night without a struggle or complaint, they earn a point or a sticker. And when they earn a certain number of stickers, they can choose from a list of healthy rewards: extra screen time, a special outing, or whatever is meaningful to them.
3. Associate Fun
If brushing and flossing have become dirty words in your house, it’s time to change the negative association with oral care. There are a few easy things you can do to make the time a bit more fun and less work:
- Lots of kids like to play with timers (yes, even simple little egg timers), so let them set 2 minutes on the clock for brushing and even do a New Year’s Eve style countdown as the time finishes.
- Play a favorite song that lasts 2 minutes during brushing and tell them that brushing is done when the song is done. The mobile app Brush DJ will automatically play 2 minutes of any song on your phone or tablet to make it easy.
- Use other health apps geared towards kids, like Green Box Heroes – it shows, in a lighthearted way, the consequences of not taking good care of teeth.
- Make up your own song that takes 2 minutes to sing and sing it in a silly way while they brush.
- Allow them to wear a special superhero cape or silly hat while they do their oral care.
- Give them a chance to brush your teeth – the role reversal will surely make them laugh.
4. Build Independence
Small children don’t have the fine motor skills to effectively brush their own teeth. And though there isn’t one set age where kids should be taking over the task, you should always be teaching as well as assessing to determine their readiness.
Most are ready between the ages of 6 and 9, but it really depends on the individual. However, I wouldn’t let a child younger than 5 go solo just yet. But they can start doing things like taking their toothbrush out, putting toothpaste on the brush, rinsing it and putting it away.
As they reach independence, have them brush on their own and give pointers and corrections. Just be sure to follow up by brushing for them. One fun way to assess how effective they are at brushing on their own is by using plaque disclosing tablets, which are chewable tablets that turn any leftover plaque on teeth a different color. This way they can see for themselves whether or not they’re doing it right.
Even if you’ve come to accept that tooth brushing time will always be a struggle, it’s never too late to turn it around. It might seem far-fetched but it really is possible for kids to enjoy taking care of their teeth. And, the more they do, the better they’ll be at it for the rest of their lives.
About the Author: Dr. Kenneth Mak practices general and cosmetic dentistry along with Dr. Dennis De Mesa & Dr. Rodney Kleiger at MKD Dentistry in Downtown Los Angeles. Dr. Mak’s main passion is providing excellent care to his patients, but he also enjoys sharing his expertise with readers in several online health publications. To find out more, visit Www.MkdDentistry.Com today!
Dr. Kantor’s greatly anticipated new children’s book, The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice, is now available. Be sure to order this highly reviewed book, filled with healthy living tips for the whole family. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.