Your Child’s Dental Health- The Early Years
As a dentist, I am frequently asked the same questions and receive texts almost monthly from friends asking good questions like “What toothpaste should I use?” and “What should I do since my child isn’t brushing?” Providing adequate structure with dental hygiene can save hours worth of pain and inconveniences. Being engaged can also help your child potentially save thousands of dollars from the cost of dental care. My wife and I have learned a great deal from our respective professions and from being first-time parents. We hope our skill sets and experience can help you out also!
My child fights brushing. What do I do?
- Having two different options for a toothbrush
- Allowing the child to choose where to sit while brushing
- Allowing child to select the song to listen to while brushing
Labeled praise (positive reinforcement) is strongly recommended before, during and after brushing. Examples (as silly as they sound) include:
- “You’re doing such a great job walking to the bathroom to brush your teeth!”
- “I love the way you’re moving your toothbrush up and down while tickling your teeth!”
- “Look at the way you brushed your teeth and how clean they look, great job!”
Essentially, you want to add a lot of positivity and excitement to reinforce the behavior as well as be consistent. Children respond far better to positive reinforcement versus disciplinary techniques. As is with many things in child development, we want to give more energy into the behavior we want to see (through positive reinforcement) vs the behaviors we want to see less of (through scolding). One of the examples I use is from the Nurtured Heart Approach which demonstrates how children are drawn to the toys that light up and make noise. Thinking of ourselves as a toy, we want to light up and be excited when our child engages in behaviors we want to see. The alternative is to give less energy to the behaviors that are negative. Pairing a preferred activity after a non-preferred activity can also be a useful strategy. For example,
- “First we brush our teeth then we get to read a book.”
Stubborn behaviors are a challenge and the child may not understand the importance of maintaining good dental hygiene. The parent must continue to explore creative options that each child may respond to. I frequently emphasize we can’t always control every aspect of dental hygiene, but we can often control dietary habits since we are the ones buying the groceries. Minimizing high risk foods (sticky fruit snacks, crackers or chips) or beverages (soda, sports drinks or juices) is an important component of minimizing caries (cavities). We want to condense the exposure of the high risk foods into short time frames around meals and avoid frequent exposure throughout the day (snacking or going to bed with milk in a bottle). Please don’t feed your infant juices or soda! Nothing beats milk or water when it comes to beverages (as recommended by your pediatrician). Many city water treatment facilities foritfy fluoride (about .7 mg/L) which helps with development and protection of enamel. Yes, fluoride is a naturally occurring element in water! In dental school I used a sample of the well water from our farm to get tested. Although the concentration isn’t deemed as adequate, it contained .5 mg/L fluoride level. Integrating proper diet and dental hygiene will set your child up for a bright future!