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    How to ACTUALLY get kids to brush their teeth

    Hygienists and parents weigh in on this important—and sometimes frustrating—topic.

    Getting kids to brush their teeth—and to brush them properly—sure isn’t easy. It just isn’t high on their list of things they want to do in a day, and most would skip it all together if they could.

    Of course, kids typically don’t understand the consequences of ignoring their oral health. All they know is brushing isn’t exactly fun; it’s just another boring chore their parents want them to finish before bed or before they head off to school.

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    That’s where oral health care professionals and parents come in. It’s important for you to work together to figure out ways to make kids actually want to brush their teeth. For the oral health care professional, that usually means educating the parents as well as the child and focusing on teaching them how to make brushing fun.

    “Brushing is something they have to do, and kids don’t like that,” says Sarah Thiel, RDH, CEO and co-founder of CE Zoom. “Kids are kids and are going to do what they want, but I believe a lot of it is on the parent. If parents get lazy, kids can develop bad habits. You have to teach them. It’s not just about cavities, it’s about overall health. If they develop gingivitis, it can affect their whole system.”

    It starts with the parents

    Thiel spends a lot of time educating parents in her practice and wants them to be part of the appointment any time she’s working on a patient younger than 18. She shows them areas their child might be missing, and what those areas look like before they’re properly cleaned and what they look like after. She encourages parents to make a habit of checking their children’s teeth after they brush and to go back over any spots they might have missed.

    Many parents are focused on the costs associated with dental issues their children develop, Thiel says. While that can be a motivating factor to get kids to brush—especially for teenage patients whose parents told them they’ll have to help cover the bill—it isn’t the most important. Sure, cost is part of the conversation, but Thiel focuses on educating parents about what cavities or other problems might mean for the child’s overall health.

    “They’re always concerned their child is going to have cavities or have to get a shot, but most don’t realize the overall health issue,” she says. “If the child has an infection in their mouth, it’s more important to educate them about what can happen if the infection stays and spreads, and if they don’t keep their teeth clean. A lot of people forget our mouths are connected to our bodies, and bacteria in our mouth affects our heart and everything else.”  

    Anastasia Turchetta, RDH, suggests you start the education as early as possible. Make sure moms-to-be understand how inflammation can affect their pregnancy and the importance of maintaining the child’s oral health once he or she is born. This includes educating the mom on how valuable baby teeth are, the possible consequences of not caring for those teeth and how to make proper nutritional choices.

    Related reading: What parents NEED to know about keeping their children's teeth healthy

    Find out what motivates the mom, Turchetta says, and she’ll be more likely to make oral health care a priority for both herself and her child.  

    “Nutrition has to play a bigger role. It’s also important for moms to understand how effective tooth brushing is at removing plaque and how proper brushing will help ensure children don’t experience the pain of a toothache. They’ll have better grades and more social acceptance,” Turchetta says. “You set them up for success when you install the habit of brushing their teeth early. When a child lives in an environment where healthy choices are made for them at an early stage of life, they will embrace that habit as their own.”

    Up next: How to make brushing fun...

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