Tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is one of the most common diseases that affect children today. Poor dietary habits and sugary foods are mainly to blame for the decay of teeth and build up of plaque. With only two sets of teeth to spare throughout their lives, children must be taught good dental care as early as possible.
Perhaps the best thing parents and guardians can to do encourage healthy dental practices is showing their children that they do it too. Small children can be invited to participate in daily brushing and flossing rituals at their parents side. This positive reinforcement of a good daily habit will resonate with most children through their adult lives, much the way every other habit learned from the parents resonates
Part of the challenge of teaching good dental health to children is making the topic fun. To encourage brushing and flossing, many parents have found success with posting a Tooth Brushing / Flossing Chart in their bathrooms for children to use to track their brushing and flossing habits. Children who do not need to be reminded to brush or floss can be awarded with stickers on their chart. Rewards can also be given if children trade junk food for healthy food during the day.
Placing a small timer on the sink where the child will brush will help teach the child how long they should be brushing for. Instruct the child to brush until the timer tells them to stop, making sure to brush each of their teeth, not just the ones they can see when they smile. Having a timer in place can also prevent races or contests, since each child will have to brush for a set amount of time each and every time.
Parents must remember that good dental health is important for all children, including teens. Tooth decay can still affect teens and adolescents. While the same rewards may not be necessary with older children, the importance of daily brushing and flossing should be reminded as often as possible.
Dr. Marshall J. Littman is a San Diego Pediatrician who has been in practice for 35 years. He is also a member of Children’s Physicians Medical Group.