How to Get Children to Brush and Floss

It seems kids naturally hate things that are ‘good’ for them: vegetables, chores, and taking care of their teeth. While I may not be an expert at picking the perfect pea or getting toddlers to clean up their toys, I do know a few things about getting children to brush and floss.

It is important to start building habits when children are young. The earlier they start, the earlier they will build a habit. If they have teeth, they need to be brushed. If their teeth touch, they need to be flossed. Make the experience as fun and happy as possible. Not everyone is going to like it, but everyone still needs to brush twice a day and floss once a day – doctor’s orders. By the time they are 6 or 7 they will have been brushing and flossing ‘for as long as I can remember’.

Make it a Game

Repetition is just that – monotonous. Might as well make it fun! Sibling rivalry is nature’s own built in competition and can be useful when playing games like who is the better brusher or best flosser. See who can make the most bubbles, play Good Guy (toothpaste) vs. Bad Guy (plaque). Create stories about crime fighting toothbrushes that rid the world of bacteria. I have patients that admit to doing a little dance with their kids as they brush their teeth. If that’s what it takes to get clean teeth, it’s worth it, right?

Set Goals or Make Progress Charts

Charts are a visual reminder of an expected task. Pick an age appropriate chart – don’t forget to let the little ones pick out the stickers! I’ve seen sticker charts for chores and potty training, but it works great in the dental world too.
Working with the kids to set and achieve goals will be great for their responsibility and motivation. Some small rewards along the way will help them keep interested in brushing and flossing and reinforce their growing habits.

Involve them

With kids, the little things sometimes mean the most. Involve them to help pick out their own toothpaste, toothbrush, mouth rinse, and floss. It can be the hot pink bubble gum flavor paste, or maybe the floss helpers that have their favorite cartoon character on them. Help them get involved in the decisions. Kids are more likely to get excited about their new 2x/day habit if they have good-flavored paste and a cool box of floss waiting in their bathroom drawer.
As a hygienist, I see children every day struggle with proper brushing. Often times their struggle stems from laziness, but other times from lack of basic knowledge and improper tools. Electric or battery-operated brushes are one of my number one recommendations for kids for these very reasons. They are more effective for plaque removal and easier for many children – yes many kids can use manual brushes, but they will almost always be more effective with the electric/battery version. Most of them also have a built-in 2-minute timer or a song to let them know when they can stop – Bonus!

Be an example

Children are constantly observing – use this as an advantage. Brush and floss with them each morning and night. It sounds simple, but it is incredibly effective. Demonstrating how to brush and floss gives them a proper model to follow and gives them an example of good home care and proper habits to look up to. When kids see how important dental habits are for everyone else, they are more likely to work on forming those habits themselves.
After the kids have brushed and flossed – take this time to check their work. Re-brush any areas they might have missed. It helps them know where they need to focus on for next time and it also makes sure they are actually leaving the bathroom clean.

Routine dental visits

I find one of the most basic things for children is to get them to start going to regular dental appointments when they are young. Routine dental visits are preventative and – combined with their new found brushing and flossing habits – can hopefully keep the little ones away from a mouthful of fillings later.
Every 6 months the child will get their teeth cleaned, checked for cavities, and x-rays taken when needed. There are also preventative options such as sealants and fluoride that help fight cavities. Going to the dentist office on a regular basis promotes healthy teeth and good relationships with the dental staff. It is a great time to check-in on how the child’s brushing and flossing are coming along and offer any additional support or education we can.

It’s not hard to teach kids to care about their teeth, but it does take time and commitment. No child is born with the desire to brush and floss, so it will take time to form a habit – but it will be worth it in the end. These are just a few ways to help keep those teeth nice and healthy. For more tips visit our blog or come in and see us today at Briarcliff Dental Care to join our family of patients.

Natalie- Hygienist

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