About three years ago, I took my first child to her first dentist appointment. It went well despite my trepidation (she does not react well to appointments of a medical nature).
Three years in and we’re still going for regular dental appointments with minimal fuss (actually, she’s downright awesome at it!) and she is regularly given a clean bill of dental health.
However, I’m sure she’s not brushing her teeth as well as she could. And she doesn’t floss. (My fault. I’ve always thought of flossing as an adult activity; not something a four-year-old does.)
Now I’m facing the first dentist appointment of my second child. I’m not so afraid this time. Maybe I should be, though.
My son has been brushing his own teeth for about a year and a half, maybe less. I know he’s not doing it properly. I try to follow-up with an attempt of my own. Sometimes he lets me. Sometimes he’s not so receptive.
About a year ago, we switched dentists and I asked him for tips to help my kids with their brushing and dental hygiene practices.
He showed them (and me) how they should brush. He told them (and me) about flossing. And then he sent us on our way. I felt a little lost because I knew that none of what he had said had sunk in with my kids and I knew it was going to be my fight to get them to follow his instructions which they didn’t actually absorb and will of course think that I am forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.
And I was right. I gently encouraged them, I made up silly brushing games, we sang songs, I tried brushing and flossing with them. I tried doing it for them. And their dental hygiene routines improved somewhat, leveled off and have stayed the same ever since.
And at each visit to the dentist, I’m reminded that, although my daughter’s dental health is basically fine, she (therefore, I) needs to do a better job.
Recently, I had the good fortune to receive a tip sheet from Dr. Walter Heidary, dentist and founder of Childventures Early Learning Academy.
Now I have a few tricks up my sleeve and more confidence in how to help my kids learn proper oral hygiene and make it part of their personal dental health care.
ORAL HEALTH TIPS FOR PRESCHOOLERS
Tips parents should know about food:
- NUTRITIOUS FOODS CAN HURT TEETH. Sticky foods, foods that cling to teeth, or get caught in the grooves of teeth such as dried cereals, dried fruits, crackers, milk, honey, etc., are a contributing factor to cavities. Even foods advertised as Whole Grains or All Natural can be factors. READ YOUR LABELS. Many of these nutritious foods have sugars added to improve taste, some even have synthetic nutrients added and may not be as healthy as they first appear.
- One food that is widely believed to actually help prevent cavities is CHEESE. Cheese helps to neutralize acid in the mouth.
- TIME OF EXPOSURE is important with food as well. It is much better to have a sugary snack all in one sitting than to sip or snack on small amounts throughout the day. This way all sugar enters the mouth at once and can be rinsed away by saliva or water. Be cautious of sippy cups and bottles that toddlers carry and sip from all day long.
- NEVER TAKE A BOTTLE TO BED. The only exception to this rule is if the bottle contains water.
- RINSE WITH WATER OFTEN. This will help to remove sugars from the mouth and foods that cling to teeth.
- Crunchy foods such as VEGETABLES are not only healthy but they can also help to increase saliva flow, which helps to rinse away sugars that are present in children’s mouths.
A few tips for when struggling with brushing:
- CONSISTENCY is key. Children may protest and struggle at first but will eventually fall into routines. Aim for the same time of day (e.g. upon waking and going to bed), also the same place in the house.
- FOR INFANTS use a face cloth to wipe their gums, even before teeth are present to help them become accustomed to the feeling. Once teeth start erupting you can continue this practice with a finger brush.
- Get them INVOLVED. Sometimes, something as simple as letting them help pick out their own brush at the store can help.
- Have them watch yourself or an older sibling brushing. Discuss the SOUND the toothbrush is making and have them try to duplicate it with their own toothbrush.
- COUNTING is also an effective tool when having trouble with your child remaining open. If they know you are going to count to 10 then come out of their mouth, they are more likely to stay open a couple of seconds longer. Do this, and then give them a chance to close, or spit. Offer them OPTIONS on which part of the mouth to count to 10 in next (e.g. should we do the top next, or the bottom?)
- PATTERNS. Once they are comfortable letting you in their mouth to brush or starting to brush independently, develop a pattern that touches each tooth. Have the child help decide on the pattern for their own mouth (e.g. bottom first right to left, then same on top; front-to-back on each side etc.)
- PATIENCE is important. If you are frustrated, they will also be. Try and make this as much fun as you can so they don’t dread it every day. Sing songs, play music, dance, hunt sugar bugs, whatever works for your child.
- FOLLOW THROUGH. What would you do if your child didn’t want to have a bath? Teeth are a vital part of their health and MUST be cleaned one way or another.
The oral health tips were produced by Beth Matthews, Director of the Children’s Self Care Dental Program at Desired Smiles, Dr. Heidary’s dental practice in Burlington, Ontario.