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8 ways to get kids to care about dental hygiene


Tips you can use to help your youngest patients invest in their oral health.

It’s summer, which means you’ll probably see a lot more kids in your practice, as parents regularly try to schedule their kids’ dental exams while school’s out.

Though you make their cleaning and exam fun and educational when they visit, getting kids to care about their dental hygiene the rest of year might be more challenging. “Young kids can have a hard time grasping why dental hygiene is so important,” says Bobbi Stanley, DDS, of Stanley Dentistry in Wake County, North Carolina. “Brushing and flossing can feel like a chore if they don’t understand what can happen to teeth that aren’t well-cared for.”

Related article: Why kids deserve special treatment in the dental practice

Here are eight ways your office can get kids interested in their own dental hygiene:

1. Parents are the role models

When it’s time to talk to mom or dad about how everything looks, remind them that they’re the role models at home when it comes to dental hygiene. “The habits parents set for children will impact their oral health for the rest of their lives, and the better care they take of their teeth when they’re young, the better shape they’ll be in when they have kids of their own,” Stanley says.

2. Make the visit kid-centric

Help make kids as comfortable as possible when they visit. Just like adults, some are more squeamish and reticent to be there than others.

“Our waiting rooms are stocked with toys, puzzles, video games and movies to keep kids entertained, while our exam rooms are decorated with bright, colorful schemes and decals to further contribute to a pleasant atmosphere,” says Steven DeLisle, DDS, founder of Children’s Dentistry of Las Vegas. “This environment helps young children establish a positive relationship with the dentist, transforming the dentist’s office into a place they can look forward to visiting rather than dreading,” DeLisle says. When kids like to visit, it correlates to caring about their teeth.

3. Plaque disclosing tablets

A good trick for kids who try to skip out of two minutes of brushing every night? Offer them plaque disclosing tablets and have them chew a tablet after brushing and flossing at night. The harmless dye in the tablet reacts to plaque, so they can see for themselves the spots they missed if they rush through their routine.

4. Encourage dress up

Notify parents via recall that you welcome kids in costume, especially if they have their Halloween costume lying around. “I’ve treated Superman and Cinderella before,” Stanley says. It can be a really good way to give kids an extra dose of courage and make trips to the dentist feel more like a special occasion. “It’s also a good way to reinforce the idea that dentists are the ‘good guys,’ who help superheroes and princesses keep their teeth protected,” she says.

Related article: 10 ways to handle parents of your pediatric patients

5. Offer praise

Most kids love to be recognized when they do something right, so offering praise for good oral care can lead to even better oral hygiene. Kids need instant gratification, so point out the things that look good or that they’re doing right and make a big deal of it to them, their siblings and their parents.


6. Engage kids with technology

Anastasia Turchetta, RDH, a speaker and author in Buffalo, New York, says kids are visual, and to make their health and wellness visits fun, she uses technology like Chompers Chums®, an animated app featuring animal characters to make brushing a fun game, or the augmented reality app Kolibree, an interactive toothbrush for kids that helps motivate them to brush.

“By gamifying the task of dental care, kids go from thinking of it as a chore and begin to think of it as a fun thing they get to do every day,” Turchetta says.

7. Use a 1950s TV ad’s advice

“People didn’t always know to brush their teeth at least twice a day,” says Mark Burhenne, DDS, of Ask the Dentist. “The reason you and I brush our teeth twice a day is actually thanks to a 1950s TV ad that told people, ‘Just run your tongue across your teeth. You’ll feel a film. Why would you keep a dingy film on your teeth? Our toothpaste removes the film!’” Burhenne says to teach young kids what it feels like when they run their tongue over their teeth. Does it feel slippery or rough?

Related article: The top 5 pediatric dental trends of 2018

Getting children used to being in tune with how their mouth feels can help them understand when they should brush. Make sure they can differentiate between fuzzy and slippery teeth. When they’re slippery, they’re clean and when they’re fuzzy, they need to be brushed. Once kids understand some of the reasoning behind good oral hygiene, they’ll take more responsibility for their own teeth.

8. Provide books

Kids get excited through reading and learning, and books about teeth are just the ticket. Age-appropriate books like “Melvin the Magnificent Molar,” “The Magic School Bus” and “The Tooth Book” by Dr. Seuss should be staples in your exam room to get kids excited about taking good care of their teeth.

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