Teaching your child healthy oral habit requires persistence and a playful imagination. To create long-lasting habits, Charles Duhigg, author of the Power of Habit recommends following these three steps:
- Setting a cue or trigger
- Creating a routine
- Receiving a reward
And while these steps form the neurological bases for habit formation in adults, adapting these principles to teach your child to brush his or her teeth requires an added ingredient — FUN!
Making toothbrushing a fun experience for your child at an early age will reduce temper tantrums and help your child build a life-long habit of proper oral hygiene. We’ve included a couple of tips to help you prime your pre-schooler to brush his or her own teeth.
TIP #1 Start Early
Dentists recommend caring for your child’s oral care even before they begin to teeth. Parents and caretakers can use a fluoride-free toothpaste and a finger brush to gently brush a baby’s gums and eliminate bacteria. This not only stimulates gums which encourages teeth growth, but also helps diminish teething pain. But equally important, this activity will help accustom your child to the sometimes uncomfortable process of tooth brushing at an early age.
TIP #2 Brush Your Teeth With Your Toddler
As toddlers begin to gain motor skills, they will develop the ability to obey simple commands and eat independently. When they develop the ability to maneuver a spoon, they should be ready to hold a toothbrush on their own. Parents can let their toddler's brush their teeth first for fun and than let mommy or daddy brush their teeth afterwards to make sure all the sugar bugs are out! This establishes a predictable daily routine.
Because toddlers tend to eat everything, use a non-fluoride, safe to swallow toothpaste when they brush their teeth, and a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste when parents brush their teeth, wiping the area to minimize the amount they swallow.
TIP #3 Appeal to Their Imagination
Did you know that American households did not exercise the daily ritual of tooth brushing until the early 1900’s? Famous American Advertiser Claude C. Hopkins launched a decade-long campaign to promote Pepsodent- a toothpaste that owed a large part of its success to the tinly aftertaste it left users with. Pepsodent users claimed that if they forgot to brush their teeth, they’d notice the absence of the tingly but refreshing sensation of the toothpaste (cue) and were then triggered to brush their teeth.
Similarly, children need playful “cues” to trigger the desire to brush their teeth. Let your pre-schooler select toothpaste with his favorite cartoon character. Consider fun alternatives to boring toothbrushes such as light up toothbrushes and saber light toothbrushes. Be sure to end the ritual with a reward. Try reserving one of his favorite toys for him to play with after he finishes brushing his teeth so that he associates the activity as a positive experience.
Neuroscientists have shown that music is powerful tool that enhances memories. Aquafresh features a tooth brushing app for children that includes a 2-minute song to help your child stay entertained while brushing his teeth. Children can earn stars for every time they complete the activity and spend them on buying accessories for Aquafresh’s Nurdle mascot.
Making tooth brushing a fun activity will protect your child from premature tooth decay and encourage a lifetime of healthy oral hygiene habits.