Dr. William J. Cruse DDS Blog 4/17/2014

Healthier Teeth Makes for Healthier Kids

“Did you brush your teeth?”

It’s a question parents ask every day, two and three times a day. It can be met with an eye roll and stomp toward the bathroom from a kid who’s willing to disrupt his play but isn’t happy about it. But the question can also be met with a lie from kids, fingers perhaps crossed behind their backs, when they can’t be bothered with the disruption at all.

How can we convince our children that this reminder is a good thing, one that can be answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes,” paired with a shiny, white smile?

Teaching oral hygiene isn’t just about enforcing the rules of the morning or bedtime routine. Kids need to know that healthier teeth and gums are important. Cavities and gum disease hurt! Brown, stained teeth don’t look nice and can affect their confidence. Even when kids only have their milk teeth (baby teeth), they need to begin establishing the oral hygiene habits that will help them through their lifetime.

So what can parents do?

Start young.
Making this part of their routine at an early age is easier than introducing it later. For babies, you can wipe your child’s gums and erupting teeth after each meal with a cloth or finger brush.

Get them involved.
Around 12 or 18 months give them a go at using their own small toothbrush, but be sure to still involve yourself in process, instructing them and taking turns. Little ones often bite and suck on the toothbrush instead of using it correctly, so you want to get in your turn to make sure real brushing is still happening. Also, be sure to use a fluoride-free, safe-for-swallowing toothpaste.

Be patient!
We want to keep it a simple part of the day’s routine and not turn it into a power struggle! Be firm and stress the importance of brushing your teeth, but if the child doesn’t want help one morning, let it go till the next time.

Graduate them when they’re ready.
Around age three, when you’re sure your child will be able to spit out the paste after the brushing stage, graduate them to regular toothpaste. Be sure to teach them how much to use – no more than a small pea-sized drop is needed.

Set the example.
If they aren’t enthusiastic about brushing, do it together. Side by side you can brush and make silly faces!

Set the timer.
Quality brushing counts more than brushing for a long time, but a ten second effort won’t do the trick either. Using a small sand timer or egg timer will help your child know how long to keep at it.

Keep up the supervision.
Around three or four you probably don’t need to help do any more actual brushing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check in and remind them. Are they reaching their teeth in the back? Did they set the timer? Most kids will need supervision like this till they’re about eight.

Show off those pearly whites!
Help them know healthy teeth make more beautiful smiles and they should show off their good brushing work with a big smile for Mom or Dad’s inspection.

Choose an experienced family dentist.
You can’t start too young making twice annual visits to the dentist part of their routine. The dentist will help you know when to introduce flossing and mouthwashes if needed to combat bath breath. The dentist will also take X-rays and help guide you through future cosmetic decisions should they be needed. Regular cleanings as will as additional services such as sealants can ensure healthy, pain-free teeth and beautiful smiles.