Families, like smiles, come in all sizes and loving varieties. One thing they all have in common is parents. And parents dramatically affect children’s health and development. That includes oral health. The more the parents model healthy habits, practice and instill values of self-care, including good oral hygiene, and invest in their kids’ dental care, the greater overall health those kids will enjoy for a lifetime.
Model Healthy Habits
You are your child’s most important teacher. If you want your kids to grow up with good oral health habits, then you need to model those habits. You need to brush at least twice daily, floss, limit sugary and acidic drinks and food, and see your dentist twice a year.
Family brushing and flossing.
You need to brush at least twice daily. Make teeth brushing an enjoyable, open-door event. Shake things up. Brush and floss to music. Brush in the kitchen. Floss on the back deck. Just brush where your kids can see you and join you! When they’re little, your kids want to be like you. When they’re older and you’re not as cool, instill their help in modeling proper brushing and flossing for younger siblings.
Protect your family from sugar.
Face it. Your kids face sugar dealers daily. These aren’t street-corner criminals offering your kids a fix. They are loving grandparents and well-intentioned teachers with cupcakes. Beware the less benign processed food and soda industries.
Sugar is in everything from sports drinks to salad dressings to chips, and you need to protect your kids from this serious health risk. Why? Because sugar is triggering not just higher rates of cavities and obesity, but also elevated triglycerides and chronic inflammation that can damage arteries and lead to heart disease in adulthood.
Think we’re hyping this? The average American consumes over 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. The average child tops that by 10 teaspoons at 32 teaspoons daily. Those are staggering numbers given that children’s bodies are smaller and more in need of nutrition, and the daily recommended amount for kids is no more than 6 teaspoons daily! Parents, we have to do better. Here are some ways to fight back:
Fight the Five:
A survey commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control, called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that there are 5 categories of food and drinks that deliver kids excess sugar daily. Minimize these in your family’s diet for better overall health:
- Non-juice drinks (soda, sports/energy drinks). Don’t keep these in the house. Provide water instead.
- Fruit drinks (even 100% fruit juice). Juice is loaded with calories and sugar. Don’t allow your toddler to cruise around with a sippy cup with juice. Only serve juice at mealtime.
- Grain-based sweets like snack cakes and cookies. Don’t use these as snacks but as desserts with meals.
- Dairy desserts (ice cream and puddings). These should be special treats, like when the family goes out for an ice cream cone. Brush afterward.
- If your child has a piece of candy, offer water afterward if your child can’t brush. Also, stay away from sticky candies, which stick to teeth and more quickly erode enamel.
Be a Water Role Model.
Water is essential to life and teeth.
Always have cold tap water available in the fridge.
Tap water is more than an alternative to sugary drinks. Drinking tap water provides your family fluoride, which strengthens your teeth. Provide cold water in reusable bottles at all activities and events. Always travel with reusable water bottles.
Water cleans your mouth between brushings.
Cavity-causing bacteria love to munch left-behind sugar and then discard acids that harm tooth enamel. Water washes away leftover food and sugars cavity-causing bacteria crave. Water also dilutes the acids discarded by bacteria. The more water you drink after eating, the better!
Water helps your saliva fight tooth decay.
Think of saliva as a defensive linebacker against tooth decay. Saliva works to tackle leftover food and restore a normal and neutral pH (around 6.7 – 7.3) after an acidic sugar attack.
Watch Your Messages.
Dentists hear a lot of stories from adults about why they avoid their dental appointments. We hear recounts of past experiences filled with pain, embarrassment, and feelings of helplessness. If you’ve had any of these experiences, it’s hard to buck up for your twice-yearly dental checkups. We’re happy to be your sounding board and ensure you don’t repeat those memories.
Be careful, though, to not share those memories with your kids. Adult stories can often seed dread and fear where none existed. Keep your messages about going to the dentist positive.
Instill Self-Care Values That Include Good Oral Hygiene
Empower your children to develop self-reliance and the values of self-care within your family framework. Good oral hygiene is a part of being a self-reliant person who practices self-care. That means consistently and deliberately making lifestyle choices that are good for your body and emotions.
Start your children early.
Do outdoor physical activities your family can enjoy together.
Teach your kids to de-stress with healthy fun and activities.
Make activities rituals. Have a pillow fight after a big test. Establish a family game or movie night. (Remember, healthy snacks instead of sugary snacks!)
Establish an expectation of body and oral hygiene.
Little ones start with hand washing, how to sneeze and cough properly, keeping hands from eyes, nose, and mouth, and tooth brushing skills. As kids grow, they will want to brush on their own teeth. Check their work by asking to see their big crocodile smiles. Touch up back molars when you need to. Always focus on the positive. “Great job on the front teeth! Let me help you on that back part that is hard to reach.”
When your kids become teens.
It’s normal for teens to want autonomy, but their hygiene may slip for a while. In fact, according to a recent Gallup survey, only 64 percent of kids age 12 to 17 brush the recommended two times a day. Here are some loving guidance tips:
Look for teachable moments and then talk sympathetically to your teen.
Like talks about sex, oral hygiene discussions are best delivered in small bites when opportunities present themselves.
Have your dentist open a conversation with your teen.
While using an intra-oral camera to show what their teeth and gums look like. Teens often take advice from non-parents more quickly than they will from parents at this age.
Hold the line on healthy habits and foods in your home.
You can’t control the outside world, but you can still maintain consistency and your values of self-care in your home.
Have honest and frank discussions about oral hygiene with your teen.
Talk to teens about the effects of smoking (cigarettes and pot) on their oral health. If they tune you out about the long-term effects like tooth loss or oral cancer, their ears may perk up when you mention tooth stains and stale breath.
Invest in Kids’ Dental Care
Six months after a child’s first tooth emerges, it is recommended that you schedule at least two dental visits a year thereafter. Although budget-conscious parents may wonder if these visits are necessary, a study of 42,532 subjects concluded that early dental visits resulted in fewer treatments and reduced treatment costs for children. In other words, dental visits and treatments can actually prevent bigger problems later on.
Importance of fluoride.
Countless studies conclude that fluoride is safe and effective in helping prevent cavities. In fact, fluoride reduces cavities by as much as 25%. Make sure you use fluoride toothpaste, especially if you drink well or bottled water.
Sealants and enamel protection.
An important choice you can make for kids ages 6 to 9 is to have sealants put on their teeth to protect their enamel. Sealants are a risk-free, wear-resistant, and painless coating that bonds to teeth. Sealants prevent about 80% of the cavities a typical child might otherwise have if left untreated. In fact, according to the CDC, “school-aged children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children without sealants.”
Kids may need braces for a variety of reasons, and orthodontia can be pricey. It’s important to keep in mind that orthodontia is an investment in more than a nice smile. Orthodontia contributes to a lifetime of oral health by providing your child straight, aligned teeth that make it easier to chew food. Aligned teeth can even help prevent serious snoring and sleep apnea.
Our dental family at Renae Wilson, DDS Cosmetic and Family Dentistry loves watching families grow. Our family-friendly staff and hygienists make a parent’s job easier by giving kids oral care pro-tips at every visit. Your kids will leave feeling special! Plus, they’ll take home some fun dental swag. If you haven’t merged your family with ours, give us a call.