In the beginning, kids love brushing their teeth. They watch their parents and elder siblings do it, and they think it’s such fun, so they can’t wait to try. When you buy their first tiny toothbrush with its colourful cartoon characters and their junior toothpaste with candy-inspired flavours, they gleefully participate in the bedtime brush routine, even though most of the toothpaste ends up on the chins and clothes, down their throats and into their tummies. Pro tip: brush before changing into pyjamas.
However, they soon get tired of the monotony and develop a new routine: trying to convince you they’ve brushed their teeth when they haven’t, fussing and mumbling when you do make them brush, then asking for water as soon as you tuck them in an turn off the lights. If you’re lucky, by the time they get this sneaky, they at least have the basics of good oral hygiene.
Time for school
Primary aged children are curious and energetic, and they often want logical answers to their questions. This doesn’t mean your responses have to be complex, technical, or highly scientific. It just means they have to be honest, comprehensible, age appropriate, and they have to make sense. They should also be share-able, so that kids can confidently spread the information to their friends without being laughed at when they can’t articulate concepts.
At this stage, telling children they can’t have ice cream ‘because you said so’ will simply have them sneaking a snack while you’re away, or getting one from grandma. You have to show them that there’s purpose and method to this madness, because at this age, telling them to give up sugar sounds like the worst form of madness. Here’s some basic dental advice you can disseminate to children (and their parents.)
Drink water from the tap
In many parts of the world (and even here in Australia), municipal tapped water isn’t available, and people have to fetch it from rainwater, rivers, lakes, or boreholes. In other parts of the globe, tap water isn’t safe to drink, so it has to be additionally treated to make it potable. Fortunately for us, Australian tap water is safe and healthy in 90% of the nation.
Even better, tap water in Australia is infused with fluoride, which coats your teeth with a protective film that prevents tooth decay. Encourage kids to drink their water straight from the tap, as a way to keep their teeth from rotting. They should also rinse their teeth with tap water after every meal, snack, or beverage.
Tell them to remind their mums (and dads) not to boil tap water before drinking, because boiling gets rid of almost all the fluoride. Aside from protecting their teeth, drinking lots of water keeps them healthy and helps them grow, so they should try to drink 8 cups a day. They can replace juice and soda with water for whiter smiles, and their toothpaste should have fluoride as well.
Visit a dentist before you start school
This advice is more for parents than kids, but if they hear it in class, they can share it at home for the benefit of younger siblings. Many parents neglect milk teeth because they’ll all fall out between ages six and eight, so they don’t seem that important. However, decay in baby teeth can seep into the gums and affect permanent teeth as they erupt.
Children undergo lots of rituals as they prepare to start day care or pre-school. They may get big-boy pants, or shop for their first lunch box. Add a dental check-up to this routine. The dentist can do a professional cleaning and check that everything is in order.
Choose a friendly paediatric dentist, so that your child gets comfortable with dental care from the get-go. You can save your child a world of grief by having their first encounter be a positive one. For most of us, dental phobia comes from our first visit being an extraction or wisdom tooth impaction. Plan to see the dentist every six months.
Wear the right gear
Kids are easily influenced by their peers, and school is a hotspot for unhealthy habits. For example, your kids may suddenly decide that their favourite shoes or haircut are ‘uncool’. These assertions are annoying but benign. Unfortunately, they sometimes decide important things are ‘uncool’, like helmets, elbow pads, and mouth guards.
If your sports-loving kid suddenly starts ‘forgetting’ their (expensive) mouth guard at home, introduce them to the haka as performed by the Kiwis or the Wallabies. It’s probably the coolest thing they will see for a while. Then, casually point out that every one of those rugby players is wearing a mouth guard. Problem solved, and you’re welcome.