How can you teach your child that oral health matters? Here’s what you can do to reinforce good dental habits in your child from an early age.
Talk About It
You can help your child understand the importance of oral health by talking about it with them in an informative and relaxed manner. Don’t do it when they’re putting up resistance to brushing their teeth at night and you’re in lecture mode; instead, talk about it when they’re more relaxed and receptive. You can use a healthy after-school snack as a jumping off point or point out the beautiful, healthy smile of someone you see on TV and go from there.
Talk about how it’s important to clean teeth every day because that’s how teeth stay healthy and white. If your child is very young, there’s no need to get into discussions of decay, extractions, root canals, gum disease, and so on, but it is appropriate to let older kids know about the real consequences of poor oral hygiene.
Model Good Behavior
As with pretty much everything else, your child looks to you to see how you act. That’s why modeling good oral hygiene habits is such a powerful way to teach your child the importance of oral health. This means brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and seeing the dentist regularly. If possible, bring your child with you to your dental check-up so they can see that it’s a routine part of life and nothing to be afraid of.
This also means modeling other good choices. You can make a point to say that you’re choosing water over sugary sodas or acidic juices, or apple slices over taffy, for example, because it’s better for your teeth. Chew sugarless gum after a meal if you’re unable to brush and offer some to your child if they’re old enough. And if you chew on non-food items like pens, or use your teeth as tools to hold or open things, it’s time to stop! This can damage your teeth and is not behavior you want your child copying.
Be Encouraging as They Learn
When your child is first learning to take care of their teeth, be patient and have fun with it. Let them have fun, too, by using a toothbrush they picked out and a child’s toothpaste in a flavor they like. Show them how to brush and how to make sure they’ve gotten all four quadrants, and all surfaces of the teeth. You can even keep a toothbrush of your own near your child’s so you can brush together.
As they get older and are expected to take care of their oral hygiene on their own, give them positive feedback when you know they’ve brushed and remind them that they should never go to bed without brushing.
Oral Health Habits
Stressing the importance of oral health is an ongoing lesson. Continue modeling good behavior yourself, encourage your child in their good habits, and make sure to have “the (oral health) talk” more than once. Every time you bring it up, you reinforce the message that good oral hygiene is important in your household, and your family values good oral health. In time, your child will, too.