mother and child brushing teeth

Teaching Your Kids How to Take Good Care of Their Teeth

A few years ago, some Dutch researchers decided to find out how much parents valued their children’s oral health – literally. They asked how much they’d be willing to pay – in money, as well as time.

The good news is that most – 80% upward – did, in fact, put at least some value on it. But then there were the others.

12% of the parents were unwilling to spend any money, nor to invest any time by brushing their children’s teeth to maintain good oral health for their child. Additionally, they indicated that they were unwilling to visit the dentist for preventive measures more than once a year.

Unsurprisingly, their children had worse oral and dietary habits than the others. If their parents seem not to care, why should they? If they’re not taught good habits, how could they possibly learn?

Parents – or guardians – are, arguably, a child’s first and most important role models. Kids may not always do what they’re told, but they’re still always listening, always watching. They learn: This is the way things are done.

mother and child brushing teethA recent study in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry recently shed some light on this phenomenon with respect to dental hygiene. Researchers observed parent-child interactions during toothbrushing and evaluated the children’s oral health.

As parents led, children followed. The stronger the interaction and longer the duration of brushing, the fewer cavities, the better gum health and the fewer dental procedures requiring general anesthesia.

Earlier research has likewise shown that parents’ oral health behaviors are a good predictor of their kids’ oral health. If the parents had dental problems, their kids tended to, as well. If they brushed regularly, their kids tended to, as well. The only aspect that didn’t correlate was frequency of dental visits.

Children’s oral health is about more than just health for health’s sake. Research has shown that kids with poor oral health tend to miss more school and have lower grades than students with good oral health. If poor oral health continues into adulthood, it can mean far worse job prospects and a higher likelihood of unemployment.

What you do as a parent matters. A lot. Even in what can seem like the smallest things. More often than we perhaps realize, the smallest of things can make a tremendous amount of difference.

Recently in the UK, dental experts at the Royal College of Surgeons released a new report on children’s oral health, with the recommendation that parents supervise their kids’ toothbrushing until at least the age of 8. But “supervise” can sound a bit like lording over, simply watching them like a hawk to make sure they brush. Think “modeling behaviors.” Think interaction.

And think, too, about including flossing in that routine as well. Otherwise, you’re leaving about 40% of your total tooth surface area untouched. Flossing – or using a Waterpik, interdental brush or other tool for cleaning between the teeth – is needed to clean the rest.

This, however, is a little more hands-on – literally – than brushing. You may need to do the flossing for them until they are 7 or 8, when their motor skills have developed enough to do it effectively for themselves.

You’ll find some helpful tips for teaching your children how to floss here.

Image by Ellen, via Flickr