When most children think about teeth, their minds instinctively go to one of two topics: the Tooth Fairy and the song All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth. But dental health for children is about more than just fairies and lisps: a good dental hygiene routine is essential to prevent tooth decay and gum disease in later life.
The Importance of Dental Health for Children
Some parents think that children's dental health isn't important because baby teeth will eventually be replaced. However, decay that affects baby teeth can spread deep into the gums, causing long-lasting damage. Children with tooth decay also experience a lot of pain and often have problems eating.
Dental health has a greater effect on general health than you might think. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Teaching your child good dental hygiene practices now could help to protect them in the future.
Communicating with Kids about Dental Health
How can you help your kids to realize the importance of dental health? Kids have a special talent for filtering out lectures and nagging, so you need to take a softer approach to engage with them. Don't assassinate the Tooth Fairy: use her as a way to make dental hygiene seem interesting to your children. Explain that the Tooth Fairy will only exchange clean, healthy teeth for coins, which is why they need to brush their teeth every day and visit the dentist regularly.
A vital part of your role as a parent is to teach your children to brush their teeth properly. Use a soft toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to brush young children's teeth, while letting older kids brush their own. Kids should be taught not to rush this important daily ritual; use a portable music player to play a song at least 3 minutes long and ask kids to keep brushing until it ends. Set a good example by cleaning your own teeth at the same time: by making brushing a group activity, your kids won't feel as though they've been singled out for a tedious chore.
Avoid speaking negatively about the dentist in front of your children. If you complain about having dental check-ups or treatment, your children will quickly pick up on the idea that a visit to the dentist is something to dread.
Encouraging Eating for Healthy Teeth
Kids will be kids, meaning they will consistently choose candy over carrots. As a parent, you need to find a way to make tooth-friendly snacks seem appealing. Kids love visually interesting foods that have a story attached to them - something that manufacturers of sugary snacks use to their advantage through their use of food colorings and advertising campaigns! Encourage kids to love tooth-friendly snacks by getting them to make an edible picture out of red cherry tomatoes, orange carrot sticks and green cucumber slices. Through this kind of play, kids will come to associate healthy snacks with fun and creativity.
Establishing Dental Routines that Last
When communicating with children, the trick is to be patient and not expect them to take on board all the information immediately. Make dental health awareness a part of daily family life, so that children naturally pick up good habits from older family members. If you can help your children to develop a good dental hygiene routine while they are young, the benefits will last a lifetime.
Guest post contributed by Laura Hobbs for Glebe Dental Group (http://www.cosmeticdentistglebe.com.au/).