"Go brush your teeth!"
If you've ever found yourself yelling those words across the house, you aren't alone. It's hard to get kids to brush their teeth. And only one-third of preschoolers have seen the dentist.
But teaching good dental habits is important to do early on. Good oral hygiene is associated with better overall health in adults. And it starts with you, as a parent.
Teaching good dental care doesn't have to be difficult. With a few regular steps, you can have your kiddo taking care of his teeth like a champ.
Here's our complete guide to dental care for kids who hate to brush their teeth.
Why is Dental Care So Important?
First, make sure you've got good dental insurance to cover dental care for your family.
Poor dental hygiene is linked to myriad other serious diseases including heart disease and Alzheimer's. Although these diseases don't develop until later in life, teaching good dental hygiene early is the key to prevention.
Gums are the tissue that covers the mouth directly below the teeth. And gum health is one of the most important parts of good dental care.
Gums are a little different from your skin. They aren't meant to be exposed to the outside of the mouth for very long. And they are full of lots of tiny blood vessels.
When gums are healthy, they create a tight barrier keeping the germs of the mouth from moving into other areas of the body.
And believe it or not, there are a ton of germs floating around in your mouth. More germs than anywhere else on your body.
The thing about mouth germs is that, for the most part, they stay out of the body... if your gums are healthy. Germs that are ingested are usually killed by stomach acid.
The problem is when germs slip between gaps in the teeth and gums. This allows those germs to get to more sensitive areas and have more access to blood.
Gum disease happens when the gums become inflamed and infected, causing those gaps. There are varying levels of gum disease, from mild to severe.
But any gum disease is bad news for your immune system. It gives bacteria direct access to your bloodstream.
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Basic Dental Care for Kids
Here are the four steps to basic dental care. With consistency, kids learn these steps easily and they become habits.
The first line of defense in your dental care arsenal is brushing. Most dentists agree that brushing for two minutes straight, twice per day is good practice. And brushing after eating is a good bonus practice.
This might surprise you because two minutes is a long time! But it's true that most people, even adults, don't brush long enough.
In order to properly brush, your child needs a good toothbrush. For children, a soft toothbrush is best so as not to damage delicate gums.
Make sure the bristles bounce back to shape after brushing. Any brush that's over 6 months old or has folded and misshapen bristles should be tossed.
Here's where you can make it fun for your kids. Get them a timer to use while they brush. Give them an incentive to brush until the timer runs out.
It doesn't have to be a fancy timer. You can use an hourglass timer from a board game, as long as it lasts 2 minutes. If not, you can have them flip the timer once during their brushing session.
Incentives like stickers or 5 minutes of extra screen time are great. The point is, you can make this part of the process less boring if you spice it up with some fun.
The next step in teaching proper dental care to children is to make sure they know how to floss and do it every day. Flossing should be done immediately after they brush, every time they brush.
The key to successful flossing is teaching them to hold the floss correctly. Once they get the hang of it, show them where they need to floss.
Floss between every tooth and behind the back molars. Run the floss between the tooth, then push it down on either side of the gum. This gets the little pockets under each tooth.
What does flossing do? It disrupts the gum tissue and the bacteria that settle there. There are tiny pockets around your teeth. And if you don't floss, your toothbrush won't get into those tiny pockets.
Plus, flossing helps strengthen the gums. When you don't floss for a long time, your gums bleed after flossing. Flossing regularly prevents gums from bleeding.
Mouth and Gum Care
After brushing and flossing, your kids should take care of the rest of their mouth and gums. This is best done by using a mouth rinse every night before bed. Have them swish the liquid around for at least one minute before spitting it out.
Note, very young children shouldn't use mouth rinse because of the risk of swallowing. But if your kids are older, make this a part of their routine to add to whole mouth health.
Another thing to teach your kids is to use their toothbrushes all over their mouths. Including their tongue and the insides of the cheeks. This sweeps away bacteria and makes their breath fresh.
See the Dentist Regularly
The final step in teaching children regular dental care is to take them to the dentist often.
Dental fear and anxiety are a problem. And it starts when they are young. But if they are used to the dentist, they won't have any reason to be afraid.
One way to calm dental fear is to choose a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists are usually easy to find. And they have special setups to distract kids while they get their teeth cleaned.
Another great bonus of seeing the dentist often is that they are re-taught the basics of good dental care. And they'll get a new toothbrush and floss after every visit.
Avoid These Foods and Avoid Cavities
An important part of teaching good dental care is to teach kids what foods are bad for their teeth. Every kid wants to have some sweets from time to time, but too many sweets can wreak havoc on their teeth and gums.
Here are some foods to avoid if you want to avoid cavities:
- Chewy and sour candy: Highly acidic and full of sugar, these candies stick to the teeth causing damage.
- Sugary drinks: This includes fruit juices as well as sugary sodas. Sodas are acidic and both are full of sugar.
- Chips: Although they aren't sugary, chips are high in carbs. And carbs break down to sugars when they stay in the mouth too long.
- Citrus fruit: Fruit is good for kids, in moderation. Too much citrus fruit erodes teeth with lots of acidities.
It's okay for kids to have these foods from time to time. But you shouldn't make them an everyday food staple in your home. And always have kids brush and floss after eating these types of foods.
Cavities and Braces: Correcting Dental Issues
It's inevitable that kids may have some dental issues throughout their lives. Some of these are due to habits, like eating candy or neglecting to brush. But others are structural.
If your child needs a dental filling, make sure they are aware of what caused the cavity. They can use it to learn and prevent future cavities. And always get cavities filled immediately.
Baby teeth eventually fall out. But they should still be fixed if there are issues like cracked teeth or cavities. If you don't have these fixed, it can damage the roots of the teeth, causing problems for their adult teeth later on.
Braces are common when kids reach their early teens. Structural flaws in the teeth should be corrected early by visiting the orthodontist.
If your kids need braces, teach them how to take care of braces. They have to clean the braces out after every meal. And they'll also floss with different tools specifically made for braces.
Lead by Example and Care for Your Own Teeth
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Lead By Example
Proper dental care for kids starts with you setting a good example for them.
Talk to them about the importance of brushing and flossing. Show them that you do it every morning and night and after meals. If you lead, they will follow.
If you take the time to teach them the proper techniques, your kids will start to enjoy taking care of their teeth. They'll feel what it's like when teeth are dirty. And they'll understand what happens when they don't take care of their teeth.
Be sure to check out our blog for more helpful articles about how to take care of your health.