Getting your children to brush their teeth regularly and properly can be a difficult task. It is, however, an extremely important habit to instill at an early stage, as it the only preventative measure anyone can take for their teeth on their own. No vaccines exist to prevent dental diseases, and the role of medicines in treating dental diseases is extremely limited.
Once tooth decay — which is the most commonly seen dental problem in children — sets in, it can only be stopped by the necessary intervention from a dentist. No amount of brushing can get rid of or stop the progress of tooth decay after it has started. This is why it is important for parents to understand why brushing has to be a non-negotiable activity and must be made second nature to the children.
Make brushing twice a day routine
Help your child understand that brushing is a must, first thing in the morning and the last thing before going to sleep. There are going to be occasions when the child may be sleepy in the morning. Or it may be late at night. Or maybe it’s the holidays, and the child wants a break — but that is when it is important to instill the importance of brushing.
The more a child realizes that the teeth need to be brushed whatever be the day or situation, the more it becomes second nature.
Remember, it takes just about two minutes to brush the teeth and so four additional minutes to any schedule should not make a difference.
Teach tooth brushing by modeling
Numerous studies have shown that one of the most effective ways of modifying behavior in children is through modeling the expected behavior. If there is an elder sibling, that is the best method. Otherwise, one of the parents is a good option as well. The idea is to brush with the child so that the child can observe what the expected behavior is.
This is also a good opportunity to make brushing a fun activity for the child. Play a fun song, have a race to see who can finish faster, or other such things that help the child enjoy brushing. Remember, the idea is to make brushing routine but definitely not a chore.
There are numerous children’s cartoons (including Peppa Pig and Sesame Street) that have positive episodes about brushing their teeth and showing them to the child is not a bad idea either.
Get a fun toothbrush and toothpaste
Similarly, there are a number of different flavors of toothpaste that have been approved for use in children. Let your child choose the flavor of toothpaste they want or if they are too young to choose then try a different flavor to see if that makes brushing their teeth more fun for them. For children who are very young and not able to rinse their mouth out, the use of non-foaming toothpaste is recommended.
Positive reinforcement: Rewarding your child for brushing their teeth
A simple reward system to help positively reinforce good behavior can also be a very effective tool in teaching children. Give a small incentive to your child on brushing their teeth twice a day properly. Some children like stickers and so a chart with a sticker added at the end of each day is a good idea. Maybe a gold star at the end of a complete week of good brushing and then a treat at the end of the month can be good motivators as well.
This system can vary according to the likes and dislikes of your child but in general, it should be something that is contingent only on them brushing their teeth. Don’t make threats or take away something if your children do not brush but rather give them a small reward when they do the right thing.
Children can be tough to teach, and the concept of oral hygiene usually does not mean anything to them! They also go through phases of stubbornness and rebelliousness during different stages of development. Don’t be deterred and get frustrated. This is not something that is unique to your child and can be easily managed. Remember that children tend to learn better when they think they are just having fun and when they are active participants in decision making.