Nearly every child has issues when it comes to dental hygiene. And it’s not that surprising when you think about it. Not only are their small mouths sensitive to the prickly bristles of even soft toothbrushes (especially during times when new teeth are growing in), but when they’re young they lack the coordination, and often the interest, to properly clean their teeth.
While you can definitely do the job for them when they’re toddlers and even help out and do inspections for the first few years of their lives (and you should), eventually you’re going to have to trust them to care for their teeth on their own. And if they develop bad habits you could find yourself on the hook for pricey dental work down the road (fillings and so on). So here are just a few ways to help kids break their bad habits and get on board with appropriate oral hygiene.
Breaking Kids of Bad Habits That Harm Their Teeth
The first step is to identify potentially harmful habits so that you can nip them in the bud. For example, thumb-sucking could lead to serious and lasting issues with your child’s oral health. It can affect the way that the mouth develops and how the teeth grow in so that your child might need braces or jaw alignment later on. It could also cause speech impediments like a lisp. And if your kids prefer foods and beverages that are high in sugars, fats, and preservatives, or they neglect to practice proper oral hygiene like daily brushing, flossing, and rinsing, they could be looking at cavities and even worse problems over time (like gingivitis). These are all common issues that parents face when it comes to the oral hygiene of their kids. So what can you do to prevent or break these bad habits?
Thumb-sucking is a difficult issue to address for many parents because kids use it as a means of soothing themselves, especially during times of stress. Even beyond that, small children have a strong instinct to suck (necessary for survival in the first year or two of life when their main source of nourishment is breast milk). They often use thumbs as a substitute because they are always available, and this habit can become so ingrained that it can be extremely difficult to break. The trick is to provide the child with an alternative form of comforts, such as cuddling or using a prop like a toy or blanket and talk to them about the causes of stress (if they are old enough to communicate verbally). You might also use a variety of products, like thumb guards or bitter-tasting liquids applied to the thumb, to curb a particularly strong habit.
As for habits related to food, it’s important to remember that you have near-complete control over what your kids eat until they start school (and a steady influence beyond that). The foods and beverages you choose to keep in the home could have a definite impact on your kids’ oral health. For example, if you fill the fridge and cupboards with sugary sodas and snacks and tons of high-fat, processed foods, of course, that’s what your kids will reach for first! But if you only provide healthy snacks like fresh produce and unprocessed products, you’ll be teaching your child good eating habits from the start. You should also limit kids to milk and water when it comes to beverages. The calcium in milk strengthens teeth, water helps to rinse away food, and neither have a high-volume of sugar found in soda and juice.
Finally, when it comes to brushing teeth, think about instituting a rewards system to help motivate kids to practice proper dental care. While you can certainly scare them into compliance with stories of visiting the dentist, it’s probably not in their best interest to instill in them a lifelong fear of dentistry. Instead, create a chart and give them a star each time they brush and floss. When they get enough stars they can have a reward like a trip to the park or a slumber party. Over time, they’ll form good habits and you won’t have to try so hard to get them to comply with a healthy dental routine.