We often talk about your teeth being a valuable resource. You only get two sets, and may begin to care for your long-term adult teeth when you are as young as 5! That’s why it is essential that we start teaching kids about their oral health when they are young, and train them well. Wondering how to get your child to care about brushing their teeth? Don’t worry, we’ve got tons of ideas! In fact, this is the beginning of a 5 blog series to give you great ideas for helping explain the importance of oral health to your child and training them to care for their mouth!
Explaining Oral Health to Kids
It’s best to start with a quick explanation of what’s in their mouth. There are three basic structures: teeth, gums, and their tongue. Each tooth also has three parts- the hard “shield” on the outside, the enamel, the semi-soft dentin which makes the shape, and the pulp which has nerves and blood vessels.
Hiding in our mouths there are also millions of bacteria that are so small you can’t even see them. Even though your teeth and gums look smooth, there are tiny hiding spots for bacteria between teeth, where gums meet teeth, and all over the tongue. Some of those bacteria are good for your body- helping fight off germs, but there are also a lot of bad bacteria. Bad bacteria like to eat tiny bits of food left in your mouth, and when they do, they make acid. Acid destroys the enamel “tooth shields” and leave holes in your teeth where more bacteria can grow and destroy your teeth.
We really like this simple video which explains this process and why we should brush.
Hands-On Learning: Part 1
Children learn best when they can engage with the material in several ways. Tell them about it, show them pictures or videos, but also let them use their hands! This activity helps show the structure of our teeth by building a model out of play-dough. As you’re building, discuss the purpose of the different parts of the tooth and why we need them.
How to Care for Kids’ Teeth
Start out with a small headed, soft-bristled brush – cartoon characters optional. It’s important that the brush can fit in tight spaces in a kid’s mouth, so if in doubt, smaller is better! Add a small, pea-sized portion of fluoride toothpaste, and begin to brush at the back of the child’s mouth. Brush gently in small circles on the top and sides of each tooth. There are 4 quadrants of your mouth: top left, top right, bottom left and bottom right. It should take about 30 seconds to brush in each quadrant of your child’s mouth. This video helps explain some of the basics of oral care to kids.
Kids will need help flossing until they have much greater dexterity (around age 9 or 10). Help them get involved in the process with floss picks, but don’t depend on them to be thorough enough on their own. When you can trust a kid to spit it out, adding fluoride rinse to the routine is a great way to strengthen their enamel.
Hands-On Learning: Part 2
After your model teeth are built and you’ve talked about how to care for their real teeth, practice this on your model teeth. Take some different colors of playdough and make “bacteria.” Act out the way bacteria grow and multiply, discussing what makes bad bacteria thrive. Then, use a real or play-dough toothbrush to “brush away” the bacteria.
This simple math reminds kids the most important thing they can do to take care of their oral health; Brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste for 2 minutes, twice a day. If your child has a watch, help them set regular alarms to go off to remind them to brush. You can also post a picture reminder or write a message on your kids’ mirror with a dry erase marker. Any ideas that help remind them to take 2 minutes to brush their teeth are great.
How long is 2 minutes?
Kids have a really poor grasp of how long things take. Mom’s 10-minute conversation with a friend takes years, while after their 30 min TV show they “hardly got to watch TV at all”! Help your child understand the length of two minutes with this simple activity.
- Ask your child what they can do in two minutes. Tell them you’re going to do a science experiment to measure time.
- Then, with a stopwatch or timer, let them see what they can do. Some ideas for tasks might be: count as high as they can, do jumping jacks, clean their whole room, clap their hands, run circles around the yard.
- Discuss how long the two minutes felt.
- Repeat several times with “fun” or “boring” activities and compare how 2 minutes feels different when you are doing different things.
You can also get a tool that helps ensure your kids brush for the full two minutes. There are several apps available with songs or fun timers put out by toothpaste companies. Or, a simple youtube search for a 2-minute tooth brushing song produces an abundant selection. A more basic solution is to get a 2-minute sand timer, set a timer on a watch, or hum a favorite song. The ABC song takes about 30 seconds to sing, so hum together or sing the song for your child to show them how long they should brush each quadrant of their mouth.
Now that you’ve introduced the basics of oral health to your kids, check back with us soon for lots more hands-on learning, science experiments, and tips for teaching your kids to take care of their teeth!