Dental Health for Kids Made Simpler

Getting your kids to practice good dental hygiene can be a little like pulling teeth. But here are some tips to help make dental health for kids a bit simpler.

Dental Health for Kids Made Simpler

Photo by Herald Post on Flickr. 


Getting your kids to practice good dental care can be a challenge and you might even be tempted to skip it altogether. But don't wait for your dentist to teach them. It is possible to get your child into the habit of brushing his teeth and to actually enjoy the activity. Here are some tips that will help make the process a little simpler.

1. Start early.

Getting started early with your kids' dental care is one of the most effective ways to get them into the habit of daily brushings. And eventually, it will become second nature rather than a chore that their parent forces them to do. Starting early also helps them maintain good dental health to avoid cavities and gum infections.

2. Set a good example.

Setting a good example is a big key to getting your child to brush his teeth. Strapping your child in a chair and forcing a brush and nasty flavored or scented toothpaste in his mouth won't help him enjoy the process or even want to go through it again. But if you can show him that you enjoy the process, there is a much better chance that you can instill that enjoyment in your child. Kids pick up cues from their parents and other people. If they see someone having fun doing something, they will be more likely to want to do it, too.

While there is typically an in-between age when children are unsure of how they should act, especially when they have a younger sibling, children have an inherent desire to act like big kids. Most kids want to become independent and learn how to explore the world on their own. If we can teach them through our own actions and teach them that big kids and grownups brush their teeth, they will likely want to do it, too.    

3. Pick a good flavor.

Kids don't like eating vegetables because they smell or taste bad or because they don't like the texture. The same can go for toothpaste. One of the best ways to ensure you pick a good toothpaste is to check the reviews and see what other parents have said about it. If a bunch of other kids have liked it, there is a good chance your child will, too.

A toothpaste that tastes good and has a good texture will seem like a special treat and get your kids to want to brush their teeth on their own.

4. Encourage progress.

Offering encouragement to your child can go a long way in getting them to keep up with a daily dental routine. As you teach your child how to brush his teeth, gently instruct him on corrections. Avoid criticizing your child, making him feel guilty, or threatening him with scary consequences of bad brushing. It may take a while for him to get the hang of brushing his teeth, so make sure to offer encouragement along the way.  

5. Maintain a healthy diet.

Studies have shown that a well-balanced diet plays a significant role in the health of our teeth and gums. Limiting sugars, carbohydrates, and starches (e.g., pizza, pasta, breads, sweets, doughnuts, candy, etc.) while consuming foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals (e.g., apples, bell peppers, leafy greens, meats, etc.) not only helps to maintain healthy teeth and gums but may even reverse dental issues such as cavities, tooth decay, and gum recession. A diet rich in phytic acid (e.g., grains, oats, etc.) is said to worsen our dental health, so be sure to offer a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables.

There is a good reason you try to get your kids to eat their vegetables. It isn't just for their overall health; it's for the health of their teeth and gums, too.

6. Discourage thumb sucking.

Thumb sucking is a common stress reliever for infants and young children. According to Psychology Today, a study on premature infants revealed that infants who sucked their thumbs or a pacifier had shorter hospital stays compared to infants who did not suck their thumbs. The rhythmic sucking soothed the babies so that they spent less energy on crying. The researchers also discovered that the thumb sucking re-optimized the heart beats and breathing patterns of upset babies, slowing them and regularizing the rhythms. Additionally, babies who suck their thumbs become emotionally more independent at a younger age.

Most of us relinquish the habit by age eight, but did you know that once our permanent teeth come in, sucking a thumb can actually affect the alignment of the teeth and jaws? It can also affect the shape of the palate. And, in extreme cases, thumb sucking can even result in trouble eating and breathing.

Some sources recommend that thumb sucking be discouraged by age four.

Trouble is, how do you get your child to stop sucking her thumb? Here are some ideas that might help.

  • Ease anxiety: Children often suck their thumbs in an effort to ease anxiety or insecurities, so help make them feel comfortable and secure. It's helpful to know the reason for the feelings so you can work with them to build confidence or feel more secure.  
  • Encourage big-kid behaviors: It's ok to let kids be kids, but when it overlaps into creating hazards for their teeth, it's time for them to let go of the bad habits. There are books like David Decides About Thumbsucking that might help your child relinquish the habit.
  • Help find an alternative stress reliever: If you suspect your child's thumb sucking is due to stress or anxiety, there may be an alternative stress reliever that your child could use. This could be an activity such as coloring in a coloring book or practicing yoga with Mom.
  • Apply a bitter-tasting liquid to the thumb or nail: If you are struggling to help your child relinquish this bad habit, you may need to resort to applying a bitter-tasting liquid to the thumb. Talk with your dentist about this method to help you find a solution that won't cause damage to the teeth.

7. Get sealants.

A common preventive measure for dental health in children is applying a dental sealant to the teeth. This is done by a dentist when the permanent molars start to come in. It helps prevent cavities in the deep grooves of the teeth that are hard to reach with the bristles of a toothbrush. Studies have shown that a properly applied sealant is 100% effective in protecting the tooth surfaces from cavities. As long as it remains intact, it keeps food particles and bacteria from penetrating through or around the sealant.

While dental sealants can last up to ten years, they need to be checked regularly at the dentist's office for chips or wearing. Your dentist can repair the sealants by adding more sealant material.

8. Prevent dental injuries by purchasing mouth guards.

When your kids are ready for sports, it's a good idea to get them fitted for a mouth guard. This guard will help protect their permanent pearly whites from cracks, chips, and loosened teeth. Even an incident with a baby tooth could potentially cause trouble for its underlying permanent tooth.

Protecting the teeth will help reduce the risk of expensive visits at the dentist's office for restorative procedures. It will also help prevent a bad experience with the dentist which could actually have a long-term effect on how the child takes care of his teeth as an adult. A bad dental experience during childhood can cause dental anxiety or dental phobia later in life.

9. Make the dentist experience exciting.

The experience at the dentist's office doesn't have to be stressful or boring. Oftentimes, the dentist office offers educational visits to help kids learn about dental care. It can be a great way to introduce your child to the dentist and teach him that it doesn't have to be a frightening experience. It can actually be a fun one.

Finding a good dentist is another big key in making the experience fun or exciting (or at least not stressful). Is the waiting room comfortable, soothing, and inviting? Are the walls in the treatment room plastered with horrifying images of bad dental care or is it decorated to put you and your child at ease? How your child perceives the dental experience plays a big role in how difficult it will be to get him in the chair.

Another way parents can make it more exciting for their kids is to reward them for their good behavior. A lot of dentist offices help make the visit fun for kids with a treasure chest of goodies. But for older kids, it might be time to up the ante with a bigger reward, especially if they're taking really good care of their teeth.

Teaching your child about proper dental care and regular brushings can be a frustrating process, but by following these tips, the process should become easier. With a lot of patience and encouragement, you can turn it into a daily routine that becomes second nature.

When your child is ready for a visit to the dentist's office, check out our dental discount plan to see how much money you could save on dental services. If you need a good dentist who offers educational visits for kids, check out our Find a Provider search. Our dental discount plan has partnered with Aetna so you're sure to find plenty of options for a provider that suits your needs.


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