By Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos for I love my kids & Healthy Kids from Teeth to Feet
Getting your kids to brush their teeth twice a day can be a struggle at any age. Parents know they’ll have to be involved with the dental health of toddlers, but with older kids, they often set themselves (and their children) up for failure by expecting too much, according to Dr. Brian LeSage, a Beverly Hills, Calif., dentist and father of two.
Parents should plan to brush their kids’ teeth until the age of 6 and supervise until they’re 12. Here are Dr. LeSage’s tips for teaching good brushing habits from an early age, without having to nag.
Little Kids (Ages 3-5)
Baby teeth are important to digestion, proper tooth spacing and airway development. If you haven’t already taken your child to a dentist who works with kids (experts recommend starting at age 1), do it now. Meanwhile, find a toothbrush (or several) and toothpaste your kids love. Start your dental routine by letting your child play with his toothbrush for a minute so he feels as if he’s brushing his own teeth; this will also help him to get the sense of his own mouth. Then take over, says LeSage. Brush gently and make it fun.
Big Kids (Ages 6-9)
Slightly older kids need equally close supervision but less hands-on help. Let your kid brush first, and then run the toothbrush over her teeth to cover hard-to-reach spots. Brushing for the recommended one to two minutes can seem like an eternity, so you might want to buy a brush with a timing light or a song that plays for the time she should be brushing. “Knowing when they’re done can make it a lot easier,” says LeSage.
Tweens (Ages 10-12)
As kids get older, they’re likely to be more interested in hygiene — or avoiding bad breath, at least. Explain to your tweens that bacteria eat the sugars that are left on your teeth after eating, producing acid that rots teeth. To up the ante, add that the bacteria almost double every 10 minutes. “Just imagine what happens overnight,” says LeSage. “They’re having a little party on your teeth and gums!” Tell your child to take as much time as he likes to brush. Never scold or threaten that his teeth will fall out if he doesn’t; simply praise his good efforts.
It can take 30 days to make a habit of taking good care of young teeth. But by then, you’ll have one less battle to fight, which is bound to make you all smile.
has written for numerous publications and websites, including Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple and iVillage.com.