Toothbrushing is a relatively new concept, with only about 7% of Americans regularly partaking of the habit when the first World War broke out. In fact, army recruiters during that time considered dental disease a national crisis because American soldiers had such poor dental health. This is a horrifying statistic to modern readers, but lucky for us, we have something that America didn’t have then: Knowledge.
The old public service announcement wasn’t kidding when it proclaimed that knowledge is power. Poor oral health can lead to debilitating medical issues down the road, including tooth decay and rot, gum disease, and most terrifyingly, brain damage. Now that brushing your teeth is a regular and expected hygiene practice in the United States, it’s also one of the most important things to teach your children.
If you’re not sure how to go about establishing an oral health routine with your tiny humans, you’re not the only one. An estimated 20% of American kids between the ages of five and 11 have at least one decayed tooth that is going untreated. Parents, avoid falling into that statistic — even during the holiday season. You learned how important it is to brush your teeth and keep a healthy mouth, now it’s time to teach your kids to do the same.
Start Their Dental Routine Early On
The minute you start seeing Baby’s first teeth coming, it’s time to make a dental appointment. This typically ranges between the ages of six months to a year. It might sound crazy, but take note: As soon as Baby has teeth, those teeth are prone to cavities. The earlier that you get your little one to the dentist and start a teeth cleaning routine, the easier it will be for them to maintain it over the years.
Of course, you might have one of those bullheaded little cherubs that has their own mind and own ideas about the world. If toothbrushing doesn’t seem to be on their agenda, there are ways to get even the most stubborn kiddo excited about keeping their teeth clean.
- Create a star or sticker chart. You are probably familiar with this one if you have gone through potty training, but the concept is the same: Print out a little calendar and stick it to the bathroom wall. Every time your child brushes their teeth, they get a sticker. After X number of stickers (it’s up to you), your kiddo gets a reward of some kind. This can be whatever you want: A special movie, an extra half hour awake for the night, etc. This is an especially clever trick because it doesn’t just motivate Junior to brush their teeth — you’re secretly forcing them to develop a habit. Go ninja go!
- Make it interactive. You can purchase special toothbrushes that play a song while your child brushes their teeth, which signals to them how long they should be brushing. The music lasts for a whole two minutes, which is the recommended amount of time that you should brush for maximum oral health. (Bonus: It’s always a better idea to let your kiddo pick out their own toothbrush, especially a stubborn kiddo. Knowing that it’s THEIR idea works reverse psychology in your favor.)
- Show them the importance of oral health using a small, inexpensive hands-on tool. You will need two white ice cube trays, a dry erase marker (black, brown, yellow, and green work well), and an old toothbrush. Lay one tray upside down and another right side up on top of it to resemble “teeth,” while coloring them with your dry erase markers. Show your kids that the marker represents all the gunk on your teeth and that only by brushing them can they get rid of that gunk. By allowing them to brush away all of the marker residue, you’re giving your little ones a superb real-world example of poor oral health — and reminding them how important a thorough scrubbing is.
A hygiene routine is a highly important aspect of every child’s life, and their teeth are no exception. Even if those baby teeth are going to fall out eventually, they are ultimately laying the foundation for adult teeth — and we all know that a weak foundation makes for an unsteady structure. Teach your kids as early as possible that brushing their teeth is vital to their overall health and wellness.
Schedule Regular Dental Check-Ups
We already discussed the importance of early dental visits, but remember to keep those visits a regular occurrence. Just like any other health examination, you need to ensure that you schedule an appointment with your family dentist every six months. This allows the dentist to give everyone a full examination to check for cavities or any other ailments, plus everybody also gets a deep cleaning.
If your dentist’s office isn’t exactly child-friendly, consider pediatric dentists. These are doctors who have had the same medical training and certifications as any regular dentist, the difference is that they specialize in children’s health. Pediatric dentists are especially knowledgeable in the typical development of kids’ teeth, and they are also well-versed in any potential health problems that children are more prone to at specific ages. Best of all, their offices are geared towards little ones, helping to ease any worries or anxieties your child might be having about visiting the dentist.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Mama always told you to eat your greens, and as a kid, you were certain it was because she wanted to torture you. Now as you hear yourself repeating those same words to your own children, you know: Life has come full circle. But then again, you actually understand why she insisted that you eat up all your veggies: A healthy diet is good for every part of your body. You already know that eating well promotes good digestion, better blood flow, and overall good health. However, your diet also has a huge impact on the state of your teeth as well. Sugary foods contribute to tooth decay, which green, leafy foods help to promote strong teeth.
It’s not always easy to eat well every day, though — especially now, when the season of rich, buttery foods is here. The unfortunate truth is that it’s cheaper and more convenient to eat junk than well-prepared, whole-food meals. Although food delivery is certainly an option, it is still an added expense and ultimately leads to human interaction. As the world tries to maintain a safe distance In These Uncertain Times™, we recommend that you try some easy healthy recipe ideas at home.
- Stir fry is one of the easiest, tastiest, and healthiest things that you can cook for your family. Simply chop up whatever vegetables you have in the fridge (consider carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini) and saute them in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, ginger, onion powder, and soy sauce. Add seasoned chicken breasts and cooked rice for a quick, filling meal that satisfies the whole family.
- Have you ever heard of “hidden veggie” recipes? These are recipes that look perfectly innocent, but actually have a whole serving of vegetables lurking inside. Some examples include mac and cheese with pureed carrots or squash added to the sauce; pizza crust made from cauliflower; lasagna layered with strips of zucchini; and yes, even brownies made from black beans. These recipes are delicious — and kids don’t have a clue that they’re eating something actually good for their health.
- Now that the weather outside is officially frightful, ’tis the season for hearty soups and stews — which are also loaded with vegetables and other tooth-friendly ingredients. As one of the most ancient meals on the planet, there is no wrong way to make a soup. Simply chop up whatever meat or veggies you have in the fridge, toss them into a stockpot, add water, and let it boil. (Remember the book Stone Soup? Same idea here.) If that’s too much artistic liberty for you, consider classic recipes like vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings, and beef and potato stew.
One major tip that you should be following this season is to limit sugar intake. Your kids just finished all their Halloween candy, now it’s time for Christmas cookies, traditional treats, and candy, candy, CANDY!! It’s easy to indulge and to justify excessive sweets by saying it’s only once a year, but remember that routine is key. Although treats here and there are fine, you don’t want your children’s oral health routine to fall by the wayside. Keep sugary treats at bay, and ensure that you and the kids are sticking closely by their toothbrushing routine even during the holidays.
If you are one of those families that is huge into holiday baking (hey, no judgment, the best of us are as well!), consider ways that you can make your confections a little easier on the mouth:
- Reduce how much sugar is in your recipes. This can be done a few ways, but we suggest two methods: Physically reducing how much sugar you put in the recipe, or by replacing sugar with fruit in appropriate desserts. No, not jam or jelly, actual fruit like berries, unsweetened apple sauce, and cut-up pears. This trick adds fiber to the recipe while naturally sweetening it.
- Consider your pastry dough. Although you might be using an old recipe passed down from generations of Grammas, it’s okay to tweak it here and there. Perhaps reduce how much butter and sugar goes into it — or use another recipe altogether. (Sssh, mum’s the word.) As we mentioned earlier with hidden veggie foods, think about how you can apply this technique to your doughs. Is it possible to moisten your pastry with pumpkin or butternut squash in place of shortening and butter, for example?
- Eliminate icing altogether, or use a simple syrup instead of a sugary cream-based glaze. Simple syrup is as basic as it gets: Sugar dissolved in water. It is glossy and can be very pretty when you add coloring to it, and serves as a lighter option to a heavier glaze.
Is your stomach growling now? These are only a few examples of some of the delicious, homemade meals that you could be making at home. Healthy eating is another good habit to get into, and it shows your children what a health-conscious, home-cooked meal should look like. By taking the time to cook clean meals for your family, you are showing more than love; you’re also aiding in the betterment of your family’s health.
If Necessary, Seek Orthodontic Treatment Early On
As with your family dentist, it might be a good idea to visit an orthodontist for kids early on. While this is not as usual as visiting a regular dentist, it’s possible that your dentist might refer you to an orthodontist to take a second look at your child’s mouth. They may need orthodontic treatment. This is not always cause for alarm; remember that orthodontists are specialists like any other, so they can look to see if there are any treatments that might be needed now or down the road.
Oral health is absolutely no joke. You learned early on that it’s of the utmost importance to brush your teeth every day, at least twice a day, now it’s time to pass those habits along to your kids. Give them real-world examples of what dirty, unbrushed teeth look like to show them just how easy it is to develop tooth decay. By limiting sugar and feeding them well-planned, healthy recipes that you made yourself, you are also promoting healthy teeth from the inside as well as the outside.
On top of a regular oral health routine, remember to regularly visit the dentist. Your family dentist will look and ensure that everybody’s teeth are staying healthy, recommend any specialty treatment, and give a deep cleaning. Between you and your oral health practitioners, your little ones will have the brightest, whitest smiles in your neighborhood — and maintain those smiles for their whole lives.