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Encourage Your Kids to Brush Twice a Day

When I was a kid, I was expected to brush my teeth once a day in the morning before leaving the house. This habit stuck with me over the years, and was challenging to improve. Today we know that brushing just once is not enough. Even kids who brush religiously only in the morning can get cavities. I should know since I passed this habit on to my daughter.

But, according to her dentist, once a day was not going to be enough to keep cavities at bay. So there was only one thing to do — encourage her to double her efforts. Thankfully, this simple shift has made all the difference, and now going to the dentist is a lot less stressful. Here are ways to encourage your kids to take excellent care of their teeth.

Healthy teeth can last a lifetime and repetition helps form positive habits. So be sure to impress on young children that teeth need to be brushed both morning and night. Keep reminding them as they grow up, and don’t be afraid to check up on them and make sure they are doing two thorough brushings a day. You can’t control your child’s oral inheritance, so emphasize the long-term cavity-prevention game instead. Help kids understand that they have the power to prevent cavities simply by brushing regularly.

Show your kids that tooth brushing can be fun and empowering by brushing along with them. Don’t be afraid to be playful with young children, for example letting the toothpaste foam run down your chin while making silly faces in the mirror. There might be a bit of a mess from shared early toothpaste adventures, but that’s okay. Keep disinfectant cleaning wipes handy to make tidying up after brushing quick and easy. If you need help getting in the brushing mood, check out this list of fun songs: www.mouthhealthy.org/en/kids-brushing-playlist.

Combining electricity and water can seem counter-intuitive at first, but using electronic toothbrushes is a bonus. Our dentist recommended the Sonicare electronic toothbrush system for the whole family. Now that we are using the system, we all get less cavities at our bi-annual checkups. If you don’t have an electronic toothbrush timing your brushing, keep a simple two minute timer in the bathroom that older kids can use to make sure they are brushing long enough.

The taste of toothpaste can make or break a good brusher. And, of course, taste is extremely subjective. For example, I detest wintergreen-flavored toothpaste so much that it makes me gag. Even the thought of wintergreen toothpaste makes me shudder. Your child might have a similar aversion to toothpaste flavors, so choose ones that family members like. And don’t worry if you have four different types, they won’t cost you any more in the long run and will encourage happy brushing.

Staring at yourself in the mirror for two minutes twice a day is not exactly entertaining. So let your kids wander around a bit while they are brushing. Kids who are naturally kinesthetic may actually do a more thorough job if they don’t have to stand still and can focus on the sensation of moving the toothbrush all around their mouths as they walk around. Wiggly kids who are too young to manage brushing safely beyond the bathroom can make up a little teeth-brushing dance to help them pass the minutes quickly while reaching every tooth.

Focus on the positive initially; don’t use fear to motivate kids to brush. But down the road, don’t be afraid to leverage disappointing results into an opportunity to motivate kids to brush more often and more thoroughly. Make sure your kids understand that folks who do not take good care of their teeth can lose them to dentures later in life. If you have had any preventable dental work, share some of your dental disappointments with your kids, and encourage them to avoid the same stress and discomfort by taking conscientious care of their teeth.

Of course, there is more to good dental care than merely brushing twice a day. There is also flossing regularly and making bi-annual visits to the dentist for check-ups, x-rays and treatments. Some of the best rewards for good dental hygiene are the simplest ones like biting into a crisp apple, munching newly popped corn and even enjoying sugar-free gum once in a while. These make good after-dentist rewards for young children who take good care of their teeth. But, of course, the best reward of all is that toothy grin and feeling of pride that emerges each time the dentist announces, “No cavities this time.”

Teeth Brushing Recommendations from The American Dental Association:

  • Once teeth emerge, never put baby to bed with a bottle.
  • Start brushing with toothpaste as soon as teeth emerge.
  • Toothpaste should be the size of a grain of rice until 3 years old, and the size of a pea after 3 years old.
  • Brush twice a day with a child’s toothbrush until kids can brush themselves.
  • Schedule a dentist visit after the first tooth appears, and no later than the first birthday.
  • Start flossing before or after brushing once teeth touch.
  • Consider sealants to reduce cavities by as much as 80 percent in molars.

 

For years, author, journalist and writing coach Christina Katz believed that she had simply inherited “soft teeth,” until she learned how to take better care of her smile.

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