While most people have been encouraged to brush and floss their teeth regularly, it’s a tough habit to establish, especially later in life. That’s why dentists are so keen on helping children start healthy habits early on, so they’re less likely to deal with serious dental problems years down the line because of poor oral health habits.
If you’re a parent of a young child, how can you help them stay motivated to brush and floss more?
The first key is starting the habit as early as possible, even before they have teeth.
By wiping their gums with a clean, soft cloth or very soft toothbrush, you can help your infant get used to the idea and sensation of oral cleanliness being a regular part of their day. As they get a little older and begin teething, this ritual can be soothing and enjoyable too.
"The first key is starting the habit as early as possible, even before they have teeth."
Don’t Assume They’re Doing It Right
While a child of 3 or 4 may be able to move a toothbrush around their mouth and work up a lather, they probably still need some help adequately brushing every tooth.
This isn’t just a matter of being easily distracted or not fully appreciating the importance of doing a thorough job. Instead, they likely don’t yet have the motor skills and coordination necessary to do a really good job brushing everywhere. In this case, assisting children until they’re more in control goes a long way.
Since you want brushing and flossing to be a lifelong habit for your children, it’s important to give them a reason to care about it before they’re old enough to truly appreciate oral health.
Many parents have found that sticker charts work especially well:
- Create a simple grid that covers a week and tape it to the bathroom mirror. (There are plenty of free printable charts available online, or you can draw your own.)
- Let your child pick out stickers they like and hang them up next to the chart.
- Decide on a simple, (non-sugary) privilege or treat your child will earn if they do a good job filling in the sticker chart each time they brush and floss properly.
Be sure to check with your child’s dentist, as they may have similar ideas and materials right there in their office to share with you.
Make it Fun
Along the same lines as the sticker chart suggested above, anything you can do to make good oral health less tedious and more fun, the better the chance you’re going to teach your kids to love brushing and flossing long-term.
Small adjustments to make dental hygiene exciting for children can go a long way.
There are plenty of novelty toothbrushes, floss holders, flavored toothpastes, and other accessory options you can experiment with to make the whole experience more engaging and enjoyable. Sometimes, all it takes to get a young child interested in brushing and flossing regularly is for them to see you doing it and enjoying it. In fact, if you make a habit of participating with them every day, they might look forward to this special time you have together.
Bonus Tip: It’s Never Too Late
Although it’s certainly preferable for excellent oral health habits to start when a child is young, it’s never too late to establish good patterns.
If your child is already in school and still doesn’t like to brush and floss, there’s not a moment to lose. You may need to be especially creative to find ways to incentivize their participation, but it can be done.
For more ideas, talk to your child’s dentist to enlist their help. And if your child doesn’t have a dentist for routine visits due to costs, consider joining a dental discount plan to secure affordable dental care for your family.