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Healthy Living: Dental health for kids and teens

Parents, do you want to keep your child’s smile healthy for a lifetime?  Then get them to brush, early, often, and the right way.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a time when dentists and other experts remind us why it’s so important to establish good dental hygiene habits early. But as a parent, you probably recognize that once your child is old enough to hold his or her own toothbrush, your control over how the child uses it will start to evaporate. So, how to make brushing teeth fun, or at least tolerable, for your toddler, tween, or teen?

Let them pick the brush: Take them along on the shopping trip and let them choose a color and style they like, to encourage them to brush twice daily, as recommended. Younger kids often are drawn to character brushes, featuring icons from their favorite cartoons. Older ones may develop a preference for a style, or even decide they like an electronic brush. Whatever works, within reason, invest in it!

Choose kid-friendly toothpaste: Children have more sensitive taste buds than adults, so toothpaste that may seem mild to us can taste sharp or strong to little mouths. Toddlers who can’t be trusted not to swallow the toothpaste can be given a fluoride-free formula. Slightly older children may prefer character-driven pastes, or those with kid-approved flavors like bubblegum or fruit. Tweens and teens may be motivated by breath-freshening pastes, or those that promise to brighten and whiten teeth.

Lay the ground rules early: Dentists recommend children brush at least twice daily, in the morning and before bedtime. They also suggest flossing after every brushing, to reach the nooks and crannies and in-between places that toothbrushes can’t. Set this expectation early, and it will be a habit by the time your child is in elementary school. For kids who don’t like flossing, or have trouble manipulating the floss, try dental “picks,” which are easier to handle but can still reach those out-of-the-way spots.

Continue to supervise: Most children need parental help to brush properly until age 5 or 6. After that, you’ll want to supervise somewhat for a few years, to make sure they’re using the right amount of toothpaste (only a pea-size dab!) and that they’re brushing the right length of time. (Two minutes is considered a good length of time; you can buy an inexpensive timer to keep in the bathroom to help older kids keep track.)

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