Although teeth usually start the oral health show in your home, it doesn't do well to ignore the other parts of your child's mouth when learning how to stay healthy. After all, oral health also depends on keeping a healthy body, choosing the right foods and even ensuring the gums stay healthy as well.
Mouth anatomy is about more than just teeth, and the more your child learns about the role their entire mouth plays on body health, the easier it is to promote good oral hygiene. Here are a few activities you can do together when talking about whole mouth health.
Mouth Self Portrait
Help your child get to know each part of the mouth. A mouth self portrait, suggests KidsHealth, is a great way to see just what makes a mouth work the way it does. Grab a mirror, some crayons, a sheet of paper and ensure you are in a well-lit area. Here, have your child open up their mouth and peek inside. Talk about some of the things they see: Not only teeth, but also the gums, tongue, the roof and bottom of the mouth. You can then challenge your child to draw and label those parts, creating a mouth anatomy that all kids become familiar with growing up.
Of course, oral health starts with dental health. When a child's teeth are properly cared for, the rest of the mouth is healthy as a result. But because kids don't always know the proper way to brush, try this: Sketch the shape of a tooth on a dark-colored piece of construction paper. Then, offer your child an old toothbrush and some white paint, challenging them to cover the entire tooth with their hand-drawn "toothpaste." You can then demonstrate different techniques, like brushing up, down, sideways and in a circular motion to ensure the entire tooth is as white as the paper you started with.
Once you've practiced on paper, bring them to the sink to practice real-life brushing. Use a mildly flavored toothpaste to encourage a great experience your child will want to improve on again and again.
So much of a healthy mouth is what you put into it: Foods that are sugary, sticky or highly acidic can result in plaque build-up and even canker sores, so test your child's knowledge on foods that are good for the mouth versus foods that could cause these problems. Start by gathering a few supermarket fliers and another piece of paper, labeling it, "Good Foods" on one side and "Foods That Can Hurt My Mouth" on the other. Then, help your child to cut out different foods from the flier and glue them to the appropriate side of the page. Talk about each food and why it's either a good choice or something to save as a once-in-a-while treat.
The real fun is in taste tests. Your child's tongue is covered in taste buds that allow them to savor the sweet and recoil from the bitter, so put it to good use by assembling sweet, sour, bitter and salty items from your kitchen. Talk to your child about how taste buds send messages to the brain so people can identify their favorite foods and avoid the items they don't like. Keep a tally as you decide which category of flavor their taste buds indicate each food belongs in. Given the results, you may need to ensure they realize that tastes can be deceiving; just because something tastes good doesn't mean it's good for you.
Adults know cavities can be damaging and painful, but children who've never experienced an early cavity might have a harder time understanding. Try this demonstration, as recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA): Draw a tooth in permanent marker on a paper towel. Then, use a watercolor marker to place a dot on the tooth, explaining that a cavity is a small hole in the tooth. Drip a little water onto the "cavity," showing the way it spreads when exposed to things like acid or sticky sweets.
With exercises like these, your child should quickly grasp how cavities and other dental conditions can infect the entire tooth if left unchecked.