If you find yourself chasing your little ones around the house, toothbrush in hand, you’re not alone. Getting kids to brush their teeth is about as easy as getting them to eat broccoli.
And good dental hygiene for the youngest among us is a critical health issue, experts say.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), cavities are the number one chronic disease affecting young children. Early childhood cavities are five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. The AAP says that pain from affected teeth can distract kids from school work as well.
Health enews checked in with Dr. Leo Morton, a pediatric dentist with Advocate Health Care, for his best advice on motivating kids to keep their pearly whites sparkling.
“There’s no magic here or one best idea,” Dr. Morton says. “But the challenge is worth it, because keeping those primary teeth clean has a direct impact on your child’s health.”
Since baby teeth eventually just fall out, some might think dental care for kids is overrated or not necessary. Dr. Morton says that is flat-out wrong.
“Neglecting regular brushing and flossing in kids can lead to cavities and eventually infection,” he says. “Getting an infection is serious business and can cause a host of problems in the body.” Complications can include swollen lymph nodes and sepsis.
If your little tyke bolts out of the room at the first sight of the brush, what should you do? Dr. Morton suggest making a game of it.
“You need to make the experience pleasant,” Dr. Morton says. “If it comes down to singing silly songs while you brush or offering a reward for a job well done, that’s good.”
Give your children some ownership by letting them choose their favorite brush and toothpaste. “Though some of them might taste too sweet for adults, most of the children’s toothpaste options are effective in preventing cavities,” he says. “Let them choose a fun flavor.”
You also might consider an electric toothbrush. Not only does it add a little excitement, it’s actually more effective than brushing by hand.
Dr. Morton is a fan of the battery-powered brushes followed by a fluoride rinse.
“They really are more efficient and can be fun for kids to use,” Dr. Morton says. “Following with a fluoride rinse adds one more layer of protection. But the rinse should only be used when your child is old enough to swish and spit to avoid accidental swallowing.”
The bottom line is for parents to “walk-the-talk,” says Dr. Morton.
“It comes down to modeling,” he said. “Our kids need to see how we value dental hygiene as an essential part of life. When our children see that we think this is important, they will be more likely to make the habit part of their lives.”