How Do You Teach a Child to Practice Good Oral Hygiene?

20 / 09 / 2019

Children will benefit most from good oral hygiene as they can avoid most of the dental problems throughout life. Tooth decay, tooth loss and gum disease can be easily prevented but due to poor oral hygiene, these problems remain common (in 5 to 10 year olds, an average of 1.5 decayed, missing or filled teeth, source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).

Oral problems can be painful and disrupt your child’s development. In addition, habits (whether good or bad) can easily reinforce themselves especially when it comes to oral hygiene. As a result, it’s important for us parents to teach our children practice good oral hygiene.

Where do we start?

First, we adults should be a good example to our children. If our own teeth and gums look healthy, there’s a greater tendency for our kids to follow. After all, what they see early in their lives could become their standards and expectations. In contrast, if we have bad breath, stained teeth, gum disease or visibly missing teeth, our children might think that it’s the norm. In addition, our encouragement and advice would fall on deaf ears because our own teeth and gums don’t reflect what we’re saying.

The key here is to send a message that oral health should be valued. However, this won’t happen if we’re sending conflicting signals and messages about the importance of good oral health and hygiene (we say kids should brush twice a day but our own breath smells like it didn’t encounter a toothbrush for a long time).

Aside from being an excellent example, it’s also important to back our words with real-time action. We’re talking about showing our children how we brush and then guiding them how to do it (e.g. hold your child’s hand while he/she is brushing his/her teeth). Until about 7 or 8 years of age, children will need assistance while brushing their teeth. During those early years, it’s important to show the right way and make the learning experience positive and supportive.

A positive learning experience is important because our children quickly associate experiences with emotions (just as how we do as adults). For example, if your child finds it delightful to brush (you’re making the practice session fun), he/she will have positive associations and memories about it. This could then help him/her feel good while brushing which would make brushing a positive habit to do every day.

About your child’s diet

Aside from regular brushing, it’s also important to watch your child’s diet because this also affects his/her oral health. For instance, frequent consumption of high-sugar snacks and drinks will result to tooth decay. The food debris and sugars will be the food of bacteria. The biochemical processes of bacteria then produce acids which will in turn damage the tooth enamel and lead to cavities. Even with regular brushing, frequent snacking on high-sugar foods and drinks can damage your child’s teeth.

In addition, high-sugar snacks and meals can also affect your child’s health. Yes, kids have high energy requirements but the carbohydrates should not only come from sugary food and drinks. Children need to have a balanced diet that provides them with a full range of minerals and vitamins. These are essential not just for their growth but also for their full cognitive development.

As with regular brushing, we parents also set an example to our children when it comes to the foods we eat. It’s important to show them that we also eat a balanced diet so they would also emulate us. Also, they only see healthy meals and snacks as their only option (they don’t see potato chips, candies and cookies around).

When should I start taking my child to the dentist?

This is also important because the dentist will be able to detect and correct oral problems early on. When the first tooth appears or it’s right after your child’s first birthday, it’s time to take him/her to the dentist. Then after, ideally you and your child should visit the dentist once every six months. In case your child breaks or knocks out a tooth, it’s crucial to contact the dentist right away.

During the dental examination and procedure (first visit), you might be asked to hold your child so he/she will feel safe and secure. On the second visit onwards, perhaps your child might need some sense of independence so stepping outside would be recommended.

The dentist might then discuss in detail good oral hygiene practices, fluoride requirements, your child’s oral habits (e.g. thumb sucking), teething and other concerns that directly relate to your child’s oral health.

It’s important that your child practices good oral hygiene and maintain good oral health so that he/she can avoid potentially disrupting dental health issues. This is also a way of establishing a healthy habit that will help him/her for the coming years as he/she grows.