How to Teach Your Children Good Dental Habits Early

September 16, 2021

The formation of healthy habits starts at a young age. In fact, according to one study from Brown University, children are likely to form their habits by the age of nine—and they usually don’t stray much from them afterward. Not only are children easily influenced by their surroundings, but they also learn new things more quickly than adults. Plus, once a habit is formed, it’s hard to break.

By taking the time to teach your kids positive and enriching habits now, you can set them up for success from the beginning—before they start to form negative habits. The earlier we introduce positive routines to our children, the more likely they are to continue to uphold these habits for the rest of their lives.

Besides teaching your kids healthy habits like completing their household chores, habits that prioritize good dental hygiene, with frequent brushing and flossing, and proper sleep, free from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), should be at the top of your list. With National Tooth Fairy Day right around the corner, now is the perfect time to make dental hygiene fun and introduce positive dental habits to your children’s lives. Here are five tips for teaching your kids important dental habits like brushing their teeth.

Make Learning about Dental Hygiene Fun

Younger kids are naturally inquisitive and love to learn. Everything is brand new, which makes life particularly thrilling for them! Just think about it: How many times have you heard your toddler ask why or how something works the way it does in the past few weeks? Plus, kids learn best when they do what they do best: play.

If you want to help your kids understand the importance of taking care of their teeth, consider playing a game or completing an activity with them. For example, there are many hygiene-focused games online and printable worksheets ready for you to complete or play with your kids. If you want even more ideas, you could also ask your dentist if they have any recommendations for worksheets or activities that kids would enjoy.

Reward Them for Good Habits

One of the best ways to reinforce any habit is to offer a reward—regardless of your age. Any time your kids follow their dental routine, you can positively reinforce their behavior by adding something positive as a result of their behavior. This can be as simple as

  • Praising your child for brushing their teeth for two full minutes
  • Giving them 15 extra minutes of time to play with their toys or read a book before bed
  • Letting them put a sticker on a habit tracker, which eventually leads to a bigger reward like a toy or trip to the zoo or park
  • Giving them a new toothbrush in their favorite color or pattern once they’ve proven they know how to brush their teeth

According to recent research, positive reinforcement is most successful when it occurs right after a behavior is completed. To see the best results in your kids’ dental habits, provide them with praise or reassurance as soon as they do something right. Not only will this increase the likelihood of them repeating this behavior, but it will also encourage them to keep trying.

Lead by Example

Have you ever said or done something in front of your son or daughter just for them to turn around and say or do the same thing around someone else? As they learn, kids often imitate the behavior of those closest to them, which usually means their parents. According to the social learning theory, people learn by watching others’ actions. This explains why your little ones are likely to imitate tucking their dolls into bed at night the same way you tuck them in.

As easy as it is to transfer your less-than-great behaviors to your kids, you can also help them learn healthy habits too. Consider brushing your teeth with them every morning and night so they can see that you do it too. You can teach them the best way to brush their teeth by showing them, which is more likely to stick with them than verbally explaining it. Plus, making it a goal to brush your teeth with your kids every night can help you form better dental habits, too!

Let Them Make Choices for Themselves

While it can be easy to fall into the habit of making choices for your kids, involving them in the decision-making process can make things that may seem like chores more fun for them. It may not be possible to let them make every decision for themselves, but you can give them fun options to choose from so they feel more excited in the process.

For example, you could take them to the store with you and let them pick out a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss to use every night. This will help them feel extra special and like they have some say in how they care for themselves. (For tips on which toothbrush is right for your child, here’s a resource that breaks down toothbrushes based on age.) You could also consider letting them decide whether they want to brush their teeth now or in 15 minutes when it gets close to their bedtime. While they still have to brush their teeth before sleeping, allowing them to decide when they do so can help them feel empowered and proud to form healthy dental habits for themselves.

Have Fun with Brushing

If you can make brushing more enjoyable for them, they will be more excited to do so again in the future. Here are a few ideas to make brushing their teeth more fun:

  • Singing a song for two minutes while they brush to teach them how long they should brush their teeth—bonus points if you let them choose the song
  • Playing pretend that they need to brush their teeth to get rid of the imaginary “sugar bugs” in their mouth or to make their favorite toys happy
  • Practicing on their favorite doll or stuffed animal before they brush their own teeth
  • Watching YouTube videos with their favorite characters or animals brushing their teeth alongside them
  • Brushing your teeth with them and have fun with it yourself

By showing your kids that brushing their teeth doesn’t have to feel like a dreaded chore, they’ll be more excited to take care of their teeth for years to come.

With National Tooth Fairy Day sneaking up on us this month, now is a great time to start teaching your kids all about the importance of taking care of their oral health. With educational games and activities, rewards for good behavior, leading by example, allowing your kids independence, and giving them ways to make brushing their teeth fun, your kids will be excited to brush their teeth every morning and night.