Did you know that tooth decay is one of the top diseases that children face today? Over 40% of children will have their first cavity by the time they reach kindergarten! The number one way to prevent tooth decay and cavities is to encourage good brushing habits early on. Be careful that brushing teeth doesn’t become a neglected chore, or this will be tough for you and your children as they become older. It’ll take a little effort to make it a celebrated discipline, but it’ll be well worth it in the end.
Start early on
One of the best things you can do to encourage good brushing habits is to start early on, even before they have their first tooth around 5-8 months. Rub age-friendly tooth or gum paste on their little gums (as their doctor permits) every morning and every evening. Their very first memories will include you implementing this ritual, and it will become less of a struggle for them to adapt or implement it themselves.
Talk to Them before You Brush for Them
When they’re older and can understand what you’re doing, they may not want you putting that plastic stick with bristles in their mouths. Maybe it’s a little frightening for them, even if you’ve been doing it their whole lives. This is why it’s important to talk to them before and as you brush their teeth. Tell them exactly how you’re going to do it, and why you’re doing it, and execute as planned. Use this time to teach them about cavities and tooth decay. As you help them brush, explain that teeth will go bad if we don’t take care of them, and that sometimes bad teeth can hurt. As they get older, feel free to be more specific with your language. Whatever you do, keep in mind that the “why” is often the motivating factor for people, even children.
Make it Fun
Just like any daily activity – the ride to school, homework time, bath time – brushing teeth can just become a boring part of life if you let it. Do yourself a favor and, while they’re young, apply this practice to any discipline that you want your child to develop that is important: make it fun. No, not everything can be fun all the time, but at least in those tough years where they don’t want to do anything that doesn’t involve play time, make it easier on yourself. Give them a cute little watch to wear with an alarm that goes off twice a day. Make up a tooth-brushing song to sing before and after teeth are brushed. There are a number of things you can do to make this important time something your toddler looks forward to.
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Brush with Them
You know that little watch you bought for your little one’s teeth brushing alarm? Make it their responsibility to march around the house upon hearing that alarm, and to march everyone to the bathroom to brush together. Seeing you brush is extremely important (after all – if you’re not brushing, why should they?)
Don’t Skip for Any Reason, Ever
Don’t be fickle. Turning this discipline on and off will just confuse your child. Running a little late in the morning? Don’t skip your tooth brushing session, you’ll just need to be a little later. Eliminate all reasons to skip it at night: have a traveling tooth brush in the van for the times where your child unexpectedly has a sleep over. Brush their teeth as soon as you know that they’re done eating for the day so that if they fall asleep on the couch, you don’t have to wake them back up.
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Brushing teeth needs to be a priority, but doesn’t have to be a chore. Implement these things, and see your child develop good brushing habits early on.