We love to see kids smile! Tooth problems can leave kids feeling embarrassed about their appearance and cost them their confidence. Bad experiences in the dental office can lead to long-term dental anxiety.
Teaching kids about dental health from an early age can set them up for a lifetime of health and great self-esteem. But sometimes it can be hard to know how to teach children about dental health without making them feel scared of the dentist!
We’ve prepared a comprehensive guide for how to talk to your kids about keeping their teeth as strong and healthy as possible, so they can love their smiles for life!
Build the Right Expectations for Dental Visits
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Whether you’re preparing for a child’s first dental visit, talking to them about avoiding painful tooth problems, or helping them cope after an overwhelming dental office experience, talking to your child about the dentist can be tricky.
By building the right expectations for dental visits, you can help prevent dental fear for children. All it takes is a few great dental office experiences in childhood to set your kids up for success in the dental chair throughout their lives.
Dental Fears Can Start in Childhood
For many people, dental fear in childhood starts one of two ways: having a scary, overwhelming, or uncomfortable experience in the dental chair themselves, or hearing about someone else’s bad experience.
How to Prepare for Your Child’s First Dental Visit
The dental environment can be scary for kids. There are new noises, bright lights, strong smells and flavors, and frequently some physical discomfort. You can help your child cope with dental visits with a few easy steps a home!
- Talk about the dentist the right way. The dentist’s job is to help us stay healthy and teach us good techniques for optimal dental health. They do that by making sure our teeth are strong and we can use them to eat all the yummiest, crunchiest foods we want. They also keep our teeth super shiny and take away anything that can make our teeth sick. They’re here to help!
- Practice makes perfect! Sometimes, a dress rehearsal can take away the fear of the unexpected. You can practice for dental visits by having your child lie on a comfortable surface with their head in your lap, so you’re looking at them upside down similarly to how a dentist will. You can use a flashlight to replicate the bright overhead light and offer sunglasses if your child seems uncomfortable.
Take some time practicing opening wide and letting you look at their teeth. If you’re brave enough, you can even practice touching their teeth with clean hands. Bonus points if you can buy medical gloves at the drug store so they can get used to the texture!
For many kids, the most helpful part of practicing is letting them play dentist! Switch places and let your child look at your teeth! They can wear gloves as well and get the full experience. Seeing what the dentist sees removes a lot of mystery and can help kids feel prepared and safe.
- Visit early and visit often. Ideally, you don’t want your child’s first dental experience to involve an emergency or painful situation. Don’t wait until your child is complaining of a toothache to see the dentist! Making their first dental experiences routine cleanings and exams is a much more approachable, comfortable way to let them get to know their dental team.
Then, they won’t be so overwhelmed if they need treatments like cavity fillings later. Routine cleanings every six months will help prevent cavities for kids, as well as build a history of good memories so they’re less scared if they need more involved treatments.
- Take time to debrief. Talk about their experience after a dental visit. What did they love? What did they hate? How do they think we can have an even better visit next time? Talking about their experience is a great way to process discomforts and emphasize what went well.
How to Keep Your Dental Fear from Becoming Your Child’s Dental Fear
Sometimes it feels like those little ears hear everything we wish they wouldn’t. Unfortunately, even overhearing someone else talk about bad dental experiences is enough to make your child scared of the dentist.
With that in mind, it’s essential that you avoid talking about your own bad feelings toward the dentist anywhere your child may be able to hear. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but hearing their grown-up say things like, “Ugh, I hate the dentist,” can be enough to plant the seed!
Even if dental visits aren’t your idea of a great time, try to keep your language and tone as neutral or positive as you can when discussing dentistry within ear-shot of any little ones.
Most importantly, never use the dentist as a threat. We totally understand that it can be a fight to get kids to brush their teeth. It’s so tempting to say something like, “if you don’t brush, you’ll get a cavity and the dentist will have to poke you with a needle and drill your teeth!”
Many kids have stress and anxiety when going to the dentist, consider some mindfulness techniques for kids to reduce stress and anxiety.
You can see why that would make a child less than excited to see the dentist, right? In the event that your child needs a cavity filling, we don’t want them to feel like it’s a punishment for something they did wrong. It’s just part of keeping their body healthy!
Teaching Your Child About Dental Health at Home
As vital as it is to get professional dental care for children, it’s the work at home that really makes the difference and creates the habits for good dental health. Teaching our children healthy habits and building good home care habits is the number one best thing you can do to protect your children’s teeth. But sometimes, it’s easier said than done!
Be a Partner in Keeping a Squeaky-Clean Smile!
You should brush children’s teeth until they are at least six years old. Past six, plan to double-check their brushing and flossing as long as possible. Even teenagers with braces are notoriously terrible at keeping their teeth free from plaque, so monitoring their teeth may be an important part of preventing permanent tooth damage from braces.
That being said, kids love to be in control and giving them as many opportunities to make their own choices can help them feel more active and invested in their dental and oral health. Even youngsters can choose their own toothbrush, their own toothpaste flavor, what color flosser they want that day.
You can also take turns brushing! If your child wants to brush first, you can just “double-check” what a great job they did. Or, you can brush first and they can double-check to make sure you did a good job!
Teaching Good Brushing and Flossing Techniques
Teaching your child about dental health means teaching them good brushing and flossing techniques. Unfortunately, many of us never learned to begin with, making it impossible for us to become the teacher!
When you take your child for a routine dental visit, you should feel free to ask the hygienist to teach you good brushing technique and show you how to brush your child’s teeth effectively. Most hygienists love teaching good home care to our patients!
Brushing Technique for Kids
Without getting too technical, good brushing is all about making sure you scrub each surface of each tooth for several seconds. Concentrate on brushing all the way to the gumline, since that’s where plaque builds up the most. Try not to scrub too hard, though!
Use very short strokes and focus on just two teeth at a time before moving to the next couple of teeth. Be sure to get the outer surface, chewing surface, and the surface on the inside near the tongue.
And speaking of the tongue, don’t forget to brush that, too!
Flossing Is Essential for Kids’ Dental Health!
Children’s teeth tend to have a little more space between them than most adult teeth, and that means more food and plaque can get trapped between the teeth. Unfortunately, that also puts kids at high risk for cavities.
Let’s be real. Daily flossing is a chore. But for good dental health, a good flossing habit can prevent hundreds of dollars’ worth of dental work, not to mention the pain of cavities and inflamed gums.
It’s frequently easier to use a floss pick than string floss for kids. Many children also prefer a water flosser, which can be a fun, more comfortable option (although it can be messier). The key is to gently remove debris, going slightly below the gumline to fully cleanse the entire area between the teeth using whatever tool works best for you and your kiddo.
Teaching Kids About Dental Health Is Good for Their Whole Body!
Oral health problems have been proven to increase your risks for a ton of whole-body diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, and fertility problems just to name a few!
Obviously, we don’t want to freak kids out with the gloom and doom of what horrors may befall them if they don’t brush their teeth. But understanding the link between healthy teeth and whole-body wellness can be a powerful motivator and put brushing into perspective.
Teach Your Child How Bacteria Can Harm Teeth, Gums, and the Whole Body!
It can be hard for young children to understand that tiny invisible bugs can make us sick. But understanding that plaque is made up of millions of bacteria will help them understand why that white stuff on their teeth needs to be removed.
If your child builds up heavy plaque, it can sometimes be helpful to scrape a little off and show it to them. You can explain that this tiny amount of sticky white stuff might contain thousands of bacteria that will hurt their teeth and irritate their gums.
If you’re open to a little low-brow humor, you can also explain that bacteria digest food just like we do. They also go to the bathroom just like we do! When bacteria poop, their poop is called acid, which can eat away at our teeth and cause cavities.
Even worse, bacteria fart, too! Bacterial off-gassing contains many of the same smelly compounds as our own flatulence, which is how plaque leads to bad breath!
All those bacteria can get into our bodies through our gums, and even when we swallow and breathe. The less bacteria we have growing on our teeth and tongue, the healthier our body will be!
When In Doubt, Your Dentist Can Help!
If you’re feeling unsure about how to teach kids about dental health, your dentist probably has some great tips and materials they can share.
We hope you’ll make dental health a daily part of your children’s routine so they can enjoy a lifetime of confidence and comfort!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I improve my child’s dental health?
Start by brushing their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Encourage regular flossing and a balanced diet. Make dental visits a positive experience and ensure their first experiences are routine cleanings, not emergencies.
What age should a child have a dental check up?
It’s recommended to take your child for their first dental check up by their first birthday. Regular check-ups every six months thereafter will help prevent cavities and build a history of good dental experiences.
How can I prepare my child for their first dental visit?
Start by talking about the dentist positively. Practice dental visits at home, let your child play dentist, and ensure their first experiences are routine cleanings, not emergencies.
How can I prevent my child from developing dental fear?
Build the right expectations for dental visits. Avoid sharing your own negative experiences and never use the dentist as a threat. Make dental visits a positive experience.
How can I teach my child about dental health at home?
Be a partner in their dental care. Brush their teeth until they’re six and monitor their brushing afterwards. Teach good brushing and flossing techniques and explain how bacteria can harm teeth.
How can I help my child maintain a squeaky-clean smile?
Encourage them to make their own choices about dental care products. Take turns brushing and make it a fun activity. Regular flossing and a balanced diet also contribute to a healthy smile.
What’s the link between dental health and overall health?
Oral health problems can increase risks for diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Teaching kids about dental health not only protects their teeth but also contributes to their overall wellness.