Instilling good oral hygiene into your child’s routine early in life is vitally important for their oral health. Not only will doing so keep their baby teeth healthy, it will also set the stage for healthy adult teeth. Additionally, it will provide your kids with great oral care habits that they can carry into adulthood.

Dr. Tomasik’s daughter, Ava, loves being at the dentist’s office.

There’s plenty you can do to optimize your child’s oral health—even before they’re ready to brush their own teeth. Once they’re old enough to start learning how to take care of their teeth themselves, however, it can be hard to get them interested—let alone keep them engaged for the two minutes it takes to brush their teeth well when they’d often rather be playing. Here are some ways to help them understand and to make brushing their teeth a fun part of the day rather than a chore.

1. Use Stories To Explain Toothbrushing

Stories are a great way to get children to relate to something. Using your child’s interests, tell them a fun and interesting story about what the toothpaste does in their mouth. For example, you might tell your child that the toothpaste has tiny knights inside it who rush to protect their teeth from sugar mites. This kind of story gets the idea across while making it an adventure. Books can also help your child understand the importance of having good dental hygiene and are a great way to introduce them to the idea of going to the dentist. There are many books to choose from on the subject that can help your child know what to expect.

2. Play Games That Make Dental Care Exciting

It’s a great idea to use games to make going to the dentist seem like an adventure. Don’t assume it will be scary to them. In fact, talking as if the experience will be an unpleasant one will probably make your child more nervous about the experience. Instead, tell them about all the wonderful new things at the dentist. This helps them know what to expect, while also making it sound new and exciting. Positive discussion also has the added benefit of making dentists seem “cool,” so your child will be excited to meet a real dentist when it’s time to go. Since many children love to pretend to be doctors or veterinarians, encourage this type of game with dentists, too. After all, dentists battle plaque—or “sugar mites”—just like doctors battle germs. Your kids will love “being the dentist” and teaching their dolls good oral health care.

You can also normalize your child’s daily oral hygiene by incorporating it into other games. This makes it clear that everyone brushes and flosses their teeth to keep them healthy. If you’re playing with dolls, for example, have the doll you’re playing with announce that she has to brush her teeth before she can go play with the other dolls.

3. Let Them Choose Their Own Toothbrush

When it comes to buying a toothbrush, let your kids pick what they want to use for their oral care. This gets them involved and invested in the process. Whether it’s plastered with princesses, dragons, or beloved cartoon characters, having a fun, colorful toothbrush can help encourage them to brush their teeth.

4. Brush Your Teeth Together

Kids learn a lot by mimicking adults, and often doing something that an adult is doing makes them feel grown-up. Brushing and flossing your teeth together not only helps them see how it’s done, but it also helps them see that you “practice what you preach”—letting your kids know that good oral care is important for adults and children alike. It’s also a great chance to spend some scheduled fun time with your child each day.

5. Play Music and Dance To It

This sounds silly at first glance, but adding music to your kids’ oral care routine can be beneficial on a number of levels. Playing a song helps them keep track of time so that you know they are brushing for two minutes. Rather than brushing in monotonous silence, music gives your child something else to focus on and makes the time seem to pass by just a little bit faster.

If you’re brushing together, or even if you’re just watching your child brush their teeth, another engaging idea is to dance to the song with them! Not only will it get some giggles out of your little one, but also it will take the chore right out of the activity and will give them something fun to look forward to each time they brush. Having a family toothbrushing dance-off will be a much more exciting event than watching the seconds slowly tick-by as they brush. You’ll want to make sure that your child is still brushing their teeth properly, but a little bit of dancing will go a long way to keeping them engaged and happy.

If your child isn’t motivated by music or dance, you can try playing video clips from their favorite television show. The idea is to transform brushing and flossing into a fun activity, so play around with different options until you find something that works best for your child.

6. Create a Reward System

If you like using charts, consider putting together a reward chart for your kids’ oral health care routines. Every time they brush their teeth, they get a star or a smiley face on the chart. If you already use a reward chart for general behavior, consider adding toothbrushing to your existing chart. You can also design rewards around your child’s interests whenever they achieve various milestones—like a trip to the park or a special, healthy treat. This will help you keep track of how often your child is brushing their teeth and will further motivate them to do their best. If they’re looking forward to a particular reward, they might even remind you that it’s time to brush their teeth.

Each child is unique, so what works for some children might not work for others. Experiment with different ideas and methods to engage your child, and once you find something they enjoy, toothbrushing will become less of a task and more of a fun and enjoyable experience for both of you. Best of all, developing a positive association with dental health and setting up a predictable oral hygiene routine will help set the foundation for good oral care habits that will likely stick with your child for a lifetime.

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