Children will be children.
As a parent, one of the things I’m charged with is making sure my children stay safe and healthy. Look both ways. Don’t put that in your mouth. Get off the back of the couch.It seems like I’m always on high alert. But, it’s what I do. It’s what I have to do.
Usually, my kids listen to my demands and corrections. Sometimes it’s without much push back but other times it’s almost as if I’m asking them to go skydiving without a parachute! Since when did not wanting my kids to light the carpet on fire become such a controversial belief? But seriously, with a little knowledge and a bunch of action, getting your kids to do what’s right when it comes to oral and dental hygiene isn’t that difficult. And that’s what this article is all about.
The Basics of Enjoyable Oral Hygiene
In my experience I have found that if children enjoy something, they tend to do it without much thought. This isn’t to say that we should make mindless zombies out of our children. But rather we need to instill a level of fun when we teach them about dental hygiene. Now, I realize that flossing and brushing isn’t much fun, even for an adult like myself. I actually hate the whole process. I gag when I brush my tongue. I have sensitive teeth that tingle when I use the wrong toothpaste. It just isn’t fun. And it was during a normal morning routine when it dawned on me. If I hate brushing my teeth, and I tell my children that I hate doing it, then what am I teaching my kids?
Before we get any further, I need to make this clear - changing your own attitude about brushing your teeth will go a long way. If you can fight back the urge to publicly convey the message that dental hygiene is not very much fun, your own children will understand that it is not something to have an aversion to.
Now that you have changed yourself (for the better!), it’s time to discuss how to help your children to understand that brushing and flossing can actually be fun.
Make Brushing and Flossing a Game
When I want to get my kids to clean their room, I simply don’t tell them to do it. After all, nobody likes an authoritarian when an authoritarian isn’t needed. Sometimes I suggest that they make up a song about what they are doing while they are cleaning. Something like (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) “I am pick-ing up these blocks. And now they go in-to this box. All of these toys on the ground. Make it hard to walk a-round. When my toys are put a-way. I can go out-side to play.”
My kids are 5 and 3 years old. They can both hum the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star tune. When I brush my 3 year old’s teeth, I ask him to hum the tune. This helps to take his mind off of the process while at the same time allows him to associate brushing time with singing. It won’t work for everybody, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
My 5 year old is extremely inquisitive. She likes to learn new things all the time. One day she asked me about teeth and why some teeth are different than others. So we got on Wikipedia and learned about incisors, canines, molars, wisdom teeth, etc. That night during brushing time, she wanted me to tell her what teeth I was brushing as I did so. And so it went - “now I’m brushing your incisors. What do these teeth do?”
“They are like scissors because they cut food in half!” she replied while foamy toothpaste sputtered out of her mouth.
“Now I’m brushing your canines. What do they do?” I asked.
“They are vampire teeth and let you drink blood!” she exclaimed. I think she watched Hotel Transylvania 2 sometime during that week. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
“Okay, now I’m brushing your molars. What are these teeth for?” I asked.
“They chew food. Did you know that Brontosaurus’ have lots of molars?” she asked.
“You’re too smart for a 5 year old.” I exclaimed.
You see, when I helped her to understand that all teeth have specific functions (and that canines aren’t for sucking blood but rather to help tear food apart), it was easy to get her involved more intimately in her oral hygiene. Once it dawned on her that all of her teeth have a purpose, she makes it a point to tell me what teeth are for. They aren’t just “teeth” to her anymore. They have purpose. And she understands that for them to have purpose, she needs to keep them clean.
When it comes to flossing, a little more knowledge goes a long way. I floss my children’s teeth every time I brush them. And no matter what, they both hate it. But I have found that applying the “game” element to flossing makes the process that much easier.
Flossing is extremely beneficial for children. It removes stuck food particles and helps keep their breath fresh and clean. I’ve found that simply telling my 5 year old that fresh breath can help her make new friends and make people happy, she is eager to have me floss her teeth. Sometimes she instructs me on how to do it!
When she was in preschool, there was a lesson that talked about “sugar bugs.” When she came home from school, she told me how sugar bugs make holes in teeth and how they make your breath stink. I explained to her that flossing is a great way to help dislodge sugar bugs so that brushing can do a better job of getting rid of them. It was like a light bulb illuminated in her head. She was able to make the connection between flossing and brushing. And now, if I forget to start with flossing, she reminds me that she’ll have bad breath. And she doesn’t like bad breath.
While it is never easy to help children understand why brushing and flossing is important for dental hygiene, there are lots of helpful ways to do it.
There are many toothbrushes on the market that deviate from the boring and instead make brushing time more enjoyable. However, many toothbrushes on the market are there because of great marketing rather than to promote proper function. Ignore flashing lights and vibrating brush heads. Why? Because those toothbrushes are treated like toys. And toys sometimes find their way into toilets, sandboxes, and under beds. My advice? Get a basic toothbrush that your children can identify with that is also approved by the American Dental Association. My 3 year old has a toothbrush with Batman on it and my 5 year old has one with My Little Pony. Other than that, the toothbrushes do only one thing - brush teeth.
When it comes to floss, we use the plastic dental flossers that come in a package of 90 or more. These make it easy to floss the small spaces between little teeth and also come shaped as dinosaurs! They like those, for some reason…
The basic idea here is to make brushing fun, not a chore. Education about why brushing is important helps inquisitive minds understand why we brush and floss. Making a game of dental hygiene makes brushing and flossing more enjoyable. And letting your children know that brushing and flossing isn’t terrible will help them to appreciate it even more.
This all worked for my children. Why not try it out with yours? If you and your children have had success with any of your own brushing and flossing tips, please comment and let us know what works for you!