A mother is teaching a child how to brush teeth in the bathroom

Fun Oral Health Tips To Teach Your Kids

As adults, properly caring for our teeth is second nature. And if you're a parent or caregiver to a young child, you know how important it is to pass on these good dental habits and ensure that they too will care for their teeth as adults.

But even for the most knowledgeable and caring parent, this can be challenging –especially if your kids are picky eaters or scared of the dentist. We hear you! These tried and true dental tips will answer questions about your child's oral hygiene needs and help you encourage their involvement in their dental health for now and years to come.

Teeth-Friendly Food

Adults know that fruit, vegetables, cheese, and lean meats are better for teeth than cookies, candy, and chips –but children often need encouragement to make those healthy choices. Some are hesitant to try unfamiliar foods or feel uncomfortable when they don't control their own diet. These 5 tips can make the process fun and improve children's eating habits:

  • Invite a favorite doll, action figure, or stuffed animal to the dinner table. Young children are often happier about eating an unfamiliar food if they have "fed" it to someone else first. And if they see you modeling healthy eating habits for them, they may want to model it for their toys.
  • Make healthy food convenient. Hungry children don't want to wait while you chop carrots, wash an apple, or cut cheese into cubes. Reduce stress by having pre-prepared healthy snacks in the refrigerator ready for when stomachs start to rumble.
  • Involve your child in growing their own food. Can you grow herbs on the kitchen window sill together? What about creating a raised bed plot for summer and fall vegetables in the backyard or local community garden?
  • Let your child take responsibility. Give your kids a list of healthy snacks, take a trip to the supermarket together and let them fill a basket. At home, put these snacks in a special box and label them with their names. Doing this without anyone else's input will help children feel more confident in their decisions and in control of their diet.
  • Save sugary and starchy food for mealtimes. Foods with sugar and starch may be safer for teeth when eaten with a meal rather than a snack and can reduce their chance of dental cavities.

Creative Ways to Engage

Sometimes, going beyond the actual practice of brushing their teeth is necessary to get your kid to care about oral health! Art projects, new ways of thinking about food, and incorporating toys and decorations help instill the importance of oral care.

  • Order a tooth-shaped cookie cutter for "to go" food items. Having your child help you cut granola bars or sandwiches will help to keep their teeth "top of mind" when taking out tooth-shaped meals throughout the day.
  • If you decorate your house for the holiday season or have a child who's very into dolls or action figures, consider integrating an "elf on the shelf" with an oral care theme. From creating a zipline with dental floss to starting a "hide and seek" game with a toothbrush, there are plenty of creative ways to incorporate the importance of dental care with your child's favorite toys and decorations.
  • Incorporate dental care into an art project. Activities with an oral care theme can translate into the idea that dental care can be fun. Bold colors and engaging tactile experiences engage children in learning about good oral hygiene. Try bring a hand mirror outside and have children use white sidewalk chalk to draw how they see their smiles.

Brushing and Flossing

Children need to brush their teeth twice a day –once in the morning and once after dinner. Ensure that they're brushing the inside and outside surfaces thoroughly to dislodge any bacteria. Squirt a small amount of toothpaste onto a soft children's toothbrush and begin brushing in a small circular pattern. Your child's oral care routine depends on their age:

  • Children two years old and younger only need a small amount of toothpaste, similar to the size of a grain of rice.
  • Children between the ages of two and four only need a pea-sized amount.
  • Children who are five years of age and older can use the equivalent size of a bean.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should help your child brush their teeth until they're about seven or eight years old. Unfortunately, there is no set age when your child will have the skills to brush their own teeth independently. However, it's a good idea to allow your child to begin brushing their teeth as soon as they are confident. Stand by to help them squeeze toothpaste onto their toothbrush and make sure they brush correctly.

Even if you're confident in the timeframe for helping your child with their oral habits, it can be challenging to implement if they won't cooperate. Keep up with some fun additions to their morning and nighttime oral care routine with these interactive routines at the sink:

  • Buy two or three toothbrushes and different kinds of toothpaste. Let your child choose which one they'd like to use, and if there's more than one adult in your home, ask which one they'd like help from each day. A variation in routine, flavor, and the music that plays from different toothbrushes can help your child get excited for the task of brushing their teeth.
  • Ask your child's pediatric dentist to give them a "lesson" on how to brush their teeth. While learning this lesson together, discuss a reward chart for when your child does it regularly and properly. From a trip to the park to a playdate, creating rewards together can help your child get excited about completing this task.

Dental Professional Visits

Oral health tips are easy to come by –putting them into practice is the tricky part! But with a little creative thinking and patience, your kids can enjoy taking care of their teeth throughout their childhood.

  • Start them young. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, children should attend their first visit after their first tooth appears and no later than their first birthday. By starting your child's pediatric dental visits young, they will become a normal part of life.
  • Familiarize your child with a dental visit before they go. Prepare your child for what to expect by reading children's books about dentist visits.
  • Don't reward your child for going to the dentist, as this implies it's something to endure rather than a natural part of every person's life. Turn the visit into part of a fun excursion instead. Go to the movies, the park, or another fun destination before or after your appointment.
  • Stay calm and let the dentist handle it if your child fusses. We know that can be easier said than done! If you know your child is anxious about attending their first dental appointment, have a conversation with the dental staff before you arrive. Your kid isn't the first nervous child to attend their practice, so they should give you concrete guidance and tips.

While every kid is different, we hope that a few of these child dental care tips resonate with you! What matters most is that you communicate with your child in the best way that works for them.

From involving them in meal planning to familiarizing them with dental decay using dolls or art projects, there are plenty of ways to help your child feel more confident. Every child deserves to feel good about their smile and understand that caring for their teeth is an integral part of their everyday habits.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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