Introduction to Dental Health
Early Childhood is such an important time to teach good Dental Hygiene habits and give children some ownership over their own health and their own knowledge. Even when children have not yet developed their adult teeth, the habits they learn now will stick with them for years to come. It’s also super important to take care of those baby teeth and the gums. If your child attends a child care centre, they will most likely be enforcing dental hygiene concepts there and probably also have a Dental Hygiene Policy.
Here are some simple ideas to teach your children about Dental Health.
What does my child need to know about Dental Health?
- Brush your teeth twice per day! If children are under the age of 8, an adult should be brushing for them as children do not have the dexterity to do this properly until they are a bit older. It’s important to encourage them to try and children love to be independent so praise and encourage their efforts, but ensure you finish the job properly for them.
- Visit the Dentist regularly from a young age. It’s so important that children feel comfortable visiting the dentist and allowing them to look inside their mouth, allowing them to clean their teeth gently and even getting used to seeing the Dentist wearing a mask and using strange, noisy instruments! If your child grows up having regular Dentist visits, it will be ‘normalised’ and won’t be so scary going for the first time when they’re a bit older. All eligible children (aged 2 -17) in Australia can get free dental care under the CDBS (Child Dental Benefits Schedule).
- Eat ‘Everyday’ food every day and eat ‘Sometimes’ foods only sometimes! Yes it’s true, there are even many adults that struggle with this one but it is so important that children learn from an early age to distinguish between the two! Using language like ‘everyday’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods helps children to understand a bit better how often they should be consuming foods like apples, carrots, bananas, snow peas, berries (every day!) and that foods such as biscuits, cakes, lollies, chips, chocolate should only be consumed ‘sometimes’. You could make it easy by suggesting these foods are only to be kept to every now and then on weekends, while Mon-Fri is kept ‘sometimes’ foods free.
- Water is the healthiest drink! While it is important that children also get enough calcium, and milk is an excellent drink to top up the calcium requirements for growing bones, any other drinks such as juice, cordial and soft drinks are unnecessary for young children and contain way too much sugar. Discourage the consumption of anything other than milk and water and it’s also a good idea to encourage using water to rinse out their mouths after eating. Avoid giving juice or milk in bottles to babies or toddlers as a bedtime drink as this can cause tooth decay when it sits on their teeth for an extended time while sleeping.
- Use a soft toothbrush to protect the enamel. It might be a fun idea to include your toddler or preschooler when shopping for a toothbrush to allow them to choose the design or the colour! As long as it’s a nice soft one which will protect the enamel instead of damage it, your child will probably love having the opportunity to choose their own brush! It will make them more enthusiastic to use it too.
- Young children generally have 20 teeth! Count them, talk about them, get children interested in what’s inside their mouth. You could give them a hand mirror to take a look. If they know what’s in there, they will probably be more motivated to keep what is inside there, healthy!
Fun activities that teach about Children’s Dental Health
Here are some fun activities you could do at home (or in a child care centre or school if you’re an educator) to teach about Children’s Dental Health;
- Use child safe scissors to cut pictures out of magazines or supermarket catalogues of healthy ‘every day’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods to make a collage or a book. You could put them on paper, in plastic sleeves or laminate them for the children to revisit and be reminded of what the pictures represent. I find supermarket catalogues best for this as they contain plenty of pictures of fresh produce that may be on special (everyday foods of fruit and vegetables) as well as plenty of biscuits and chocolates or chips that are also usually featured in specials. Magazines tend to have more pictures of prepared meals rather than pictured whole foods. Wonderful language experience and scissor (fine motor) practice.
- Give children laminated pictures of white tooth shapes or mouths and toothbrushes with blue or green coloured shaving foam for ‘brushing’ the paste onto the teeth. Great for dental health discussions as well as a fun sensory, creative experience that also builds fine motor skills.
- Set up a tea party with a tea set and real water in the tea pot. Children will love pouring the water, spilling it, measuring. This allows for discussions about water as the healthiest drink and also develops hand eye coordination, pre maths skills involving volume and capacity as well as sharing skills and role play.
- Paint some full egg cartons white and use string as ‘dental floss’ to floss between the carton shapes (upside down). Develops creative skills, fine motor strength and allows for discussions about flossing.
- Dental surgery role play with dentist uniforms (blue or white ‘coat’), masks, toothbrushes, mini mirrors, toothpaste, dentist ‘chair’ and magazines for the ‘waiting room’.
- Read stories about Dental Health and going to the Dentist. Most children love story time, especially one on one or in small groups and there are heaps to choose from that cover dental hygiene.
Summary about Children’s Dental Health
There are so many things to remember to teach our children about their health and safety when they are young from remembering to wear a hat outdoors, to holding hands when we cross the road and eating our veggies! Dental Hygiene doesn’t have to be difficult to teach, it can be a natural part of everyday discussions and to accompany routines.
Hopefully this is an easy starting point for parents or educators on what to teach about Children’s Dental Health and how to make it fun!
After all, if it’s FUN, they will learn!