You probably can’t remember the time before you brushed your teeth. You realize that your parents must have taught you as a young child, and you remember your childhood dental visits, but you don’t remember how your parents taught you. Now you have a child of your own, and you know dental hygiene basics, but you don’t know how to help your child develop good dental habits.

In this post, we’ll outline why your child’s oral health matters, what to teach him or her, and how to provide motivation.

Why You Should Value Your Child’s Oral Health

Until your child turns about 7, he or she won’t have any adult, or permanent teeth. Instead, he or she will have primary teeth. Primary teeth, also called baby teeth, have a few key differences from adult teeth:

  • They have thinner enamel and dentin. This means that cavities can eat through your child’s teeth more quickly. Their thinner construction also makes them easier to knock out.
  • They hold the place for the permanent teeth that come later. Each primary tooth saves a spot for a corresponding adult tooth. If the primary tooth falls out prematurely, the teeth around it will shift and block that spot, forcing the permanent tooth to erupt in a strange position. This leads to a misaligned bite and crooked smile later.
  • They weren’t meant to last. Between the ages of 7 and 12, your child’s body will reabsorb his or her primary teeth’s roots, and the teeth will fall out. But even though they’ll fall out, they still need care.
  • They look whiter. Primary teeth have a different composition, but don’t let the sparklingly white colour fool you. Your child’s smile may look clean, but it still has the same bacteria content that yours does.
Since baby teeth have different needs than adult teeth, you have to work harder than usual to maintain them. Start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they appear, and teach your child about dental hygiene as soon as he or she can form and understand coherent sentences.

What Habits to Teach Your Child

You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) teach your child everything about dental hygiene at the same time. Not only will he or she not understand complicated procedures, but some procedures may cause anxiety or fear. Simply start your instruction by explaining that dental hygiene works like a bath for one’s mouth. Explain that germs and other dirty things can get on teeth, and dental hygiene cleans them.

As long as you use simple explanations and keep fear out of the equation, your child will understand the importance of good dental habits. And after you’ve explained the why, you can move on to the how. Make sure your child learns to do the following:
  • Brush teeth: Your child should brush 2–3 times per day for about 2–3 minutes. Teach your child to brush in an up-down motion, not a side-to-side motion. Even through brushing from side to side produces faster results, it can erode the gums. Make sure your child has a toothbrush with soft bristles, and encourage them to treat their teeth gently.
  • Floss: Teach your child to floss at least once per day. His or her less experienced hands might do better with flossing devices instead of normal floss. Make sure that your child slowly eases the floss between each tooth—if the floss snaps in, it could cut or damage the gums.
  • Rinse: Your child probably shouldn’t use mouthwash just yet, but you can teach him or her this principle with water.
  • Eat healthy foods: You have to teach your child about nutrition already. Simply supplement that education by adding a section about foods that help teeth. Meat, dairy products, legumes, vegetables, and nonacidic fruits all help teeth grow healthy and strong. You should also tell your child about foods that ruin teeth health, like candies, cookies, cakes, soda, acidic foods, potato chips, etc.
After you’ve taught your child about these habits, you have to make sure he or she follows them. Some children won’t do this without a little persuasion. We’ve included strategies to motivate your child below.

How to Motivate Your Child

If your child needs some encouragement, try the following strategies:
  • Take care of your hygiene at the same time. Children often learn by example. If your child sees you flossing or brushing your teeth, he or she will want to do the same.
  • Make the routine into a game. If you sing songs or have a race, your child will learn to associate dental hygiene with fun. You can also help your child brush stuffed animals’ teeth while you play dentist.
  • Buy a cool toothbrush. If your child’s toothbrush has fun colours, cartoon characters, or animals on it, your child may enjoy the activity more.
  • Offer treats or prizes. Some children need enticements. Have your child set goals, and offer prizes if he or she meets those goals. Eventually, your child won’t need the motivation anymore. He or she will simply understand why dental hygiene matters. Use the tips above to help your child start building good dental habits today. And if you have any further questions, contact your dentist.
Eventually, your child won’t need the motivation anymore. He or she will simply understand why dental hygiene matters. Use the tips above to help your child start building good dental habits today. And if you have any further questions, contact your dentist.