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So how should parents get their kids brushing their teeth regularly?
Modelling good behaviour is one of the best ways to get your kids excited about brushing their teeth instead of thinking it's a chore. When you brush your teeth, be happy that you're doing it. If you make it look like fun, the kids will want to do it too. Let them copy you. Buy them the same colour toothbrush as you have, or try an electric one, which may be more entertaining for them. Let them try brushing your teeth and then you can brush theirs to make sure they're actually clean.
Getting your kids brushing their teeth correctly is vital for good oral hygiene. According to dental hygienist Kim Czerwonka and her fellow hygienists at Dr. Todd S. Sheppard Dentistry in Calgary, there are a number of ways to encourage kids to brush, and to do so effectively.
1. Give them a good story
"We talk about why we need to brush – how the sugar bugs make holes in our teeth if we don't brush them away," she explains. Sometimes kids need a reason or a good story to get on board.
2. Show and tell
If they're still unconvinced, you can try using a dissolving agent, available at pharmacists' counters and dental offices, to clearly show them the plaque on their teeth. "They just chew them and the pink shows them where the plaque is to prove that brushing makes a difference," says Czerwonka.
3. Brush like train wheels
She also recommends likening their brush strokes to train wheels. "Having kids think of the wheels of a choo-choo train helps them to brush correctly," Czerwonka says. "They should use big circles in a massaging stroke – round and round instead of back and forth or scrubbing."
4. Make bubbles
"Also encourage them to create lots of bubbles – that means they're brushing well," she says. You could hold a bubble-making contest with your kids to see who can create the most bubbles.
5. Brush with a stuffed animal
For extra encouragement, have your kids bring their favourite stuffed animal or doll into the bathroom, and have them brush their toys' teeth as well as their own. You can also create a game where your child's toothbrush is a superhero who needs to rescue (that is, brush) each tooth from the plaque monsters.
6. Let your kids choose their toothpaste
As for toothpaste, let your children choose a kids' toothpaste they want to use. Adult toothpastes can be too strong for tiny palettes. Just be sure to only use a dab.
7. Sing the alphabet or count time
To help your kids brush for the recommended two minutes, have them sing the alphabet while they're brushing or give them an egg timer to count down the time. Czerwonka and her team actually give out egg timers to the kids who come to their office, so they each have their own and can be in charge of setting the timer.
8. Compliment your kids
Ultimately, as with any task you want to encourage, praise your kids when they do it, especially when they do it with the correct strokes and for two solid minutes.
But if your child continues to resist brushing properly or at all, don't be afraid to ask for help. "If you're having brushing stress at home with your kids, try bringing them into the dentist," says Czerwonka. "It can help to hear the instruction from someone other than a parent. Sometimes kids just don't want to listen to their parents!"