I may be a full-time dentist, but I’m also a mom who endures the same battles any parent does when it comes to their kids’ teeth. Here, I use my own experiences to answer five common questions parents have about keeping their children’s teeth healthy.
Any parent knows there is no supreme guidebook to tell you exactly what to do when raising little ones. Trust me, being a dentist does not exempt me from struggling to get my seven-year-old to brush her teeth after eating birthday cake.
If you are having problems establishing a dental routine for your young one(s), know that I have been there, too. That’s why I want to talk about how I’m also a parent who cares about keeping her kids’ mouths happy and healthy. Maybe you’ll learn from my experiences.
But before we get to that, I want to emphasize the importance of being a good role model for your kids.
It’s the best way to ensure they develop good, lifelong habits, whether it’s cleaning their teeth, holding the door open for others, or listening to their teachers. They are watching and listening more than you know.
Showing you prioritize going to the dentist and brushing your teeth will most likely reflect positively on them. For instance, bring your child to the dentist when you go for a cleaning. If you can’t bring them, tell them you went that day.
It’s up to you to create positive experiences and guide them to healthy habits.
1. What routines have you established with your children?
As I mentioned above, the number one thing I try to do is instill good lifelong habits in my kids. From the day they could first pick up a toothbrush, I have made sure they clean their teeth two times per day for two minutes each time.
I want to note that it’s important to be creative when establishing a dental routine for your kids. For instance, my children use the electric toothbrush, which they love because it tickles their teeth and hums a little tune when they are all done. This stops buzzing after two minutes when time is up.
Otherwise, they use a time, or tell time off the clock.
2. Do you let your children brush their teeth?
My son and daughter are ages seven and nine. I let them brush their teeth, because I think it is important for them to develop the proper motor skills. They have their turn, and mom has her turn afterward. This goes for flossing as well. Children’s floss picks are a great way to let kids have a turn, but as with brushing, I follow up with a turn. I tell my kiddos I get a turn until they become 12 years old.
3. What tricks do you use when your children are fussy about brushing or flossing their teeth?
Our home is just like any other home. I don’t chase my kids around the house with floss and lasso them with it, but it is important for them to have respect for their health, and for their parents. I do my best to encourage that respect.
Of my two children, one loves sitting in the dental chair. He’s had professional care since he was two years old. He has no problem brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash. Heck, he enjoys it.
My other one, however — let’s just say there are times I’ve had to straddle her to get the toothbrush in her mouth. With her, I’ve had to pull out some tricks.
I’ve found the reward system to be quite successful. For instance, I made a sticker chart for each of my kids to place a sticker next to their name after they brush and floss their teeth.
Also, I don’t hesitate to make it fun. I’ll play the radio for two minutes, or have them try brushing their teeth in silly, yet safe, positions.
4. How do you manage your kids’ intake of candy, soda and other cavity-inducing foods and beverages?
Well, to start, we don’t keep candy or soda in the house. My children do not have soda or sweets unless it is a special occasion. (One time my husband introduced root beer when I was not home. Obviously it’s not the end of their healthy smiles, but we talked about why it is a special treat.)
I also still cut my kids’ juice with water. These juices — even orange juice — are packed with sugar, and bad for kids’ teeth (or anyone, really) to consume on a daily basis.
Do my kids have sugary lemonade by the pool, or Sprite at a birthday party? Absolutely. They’re kids! We are a normal family. We eat birthday cake and other sugary foods, but I always emphasize that these foods are “special treats.”
5. What is your most common piece of advice to parents?
My advice to parents — especially if their children are a bit older — is that kids want to brush their teeth themselves. Even if your children are younger, let them have a turn, and then have them hand over the brush to you.
Also, don’t be afraid to be creative in helping them develop good, lifelong habits.
As a dentist and mom, I will also say that having a trustworthy family dentist onboard to help guide and encourage communication among you and your family about health is essential. Be sure to choose a doctor who you are comfortable talking to — it will make a world of difference!