Pointy, broken-toothed smiles look cool on a jack-o-lantern, but on your kid? Not so much. Keeping teeth whole and healthy requires good oral habits, and while it would be great if kids were born with an instinctive knowledge of how to keep their teeth and gums in good shape, sadly, that is not the case. And that means it falls to you to show them the way. Fortunately, teaching kids good oral health habits doesn’t have to be difficult; the key is to start early and to monitor them while they brush and floss to make sure they keep up with those habits. Here are a few tips for all of you moms to get you started:

Tips for Moms for Kids Oral Health

Tips for Moms to Help Keep Your Child’s Teeth Healthy

Start Young and REALLY Young

Parents should begin dental care even before their baby’s first teeth emerge, wiping gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding, according to Kool Smiles. Brushing should begin as soon as the first teeth emerge, with parents using a soft brush and just a smear of toothpaste to gently clean tiny teeth and gums. Remove excess paste and suds with a soft cloth if your child is too young to spit. Add a tiny dab of toothpaste when the child is old enough to understand that he or she should rinse and spit, and not swallow, the suds.

Likewise, flossing should begin when two teeth emerge that are next to each other. Beginning early prevents a buildup of harmful bacteria and also accustoms the child to the cleaning process. Children can begin brushing their own teeth with parental assistance once they can manage a toothbrush. As children become more adept, they can begin to brush and floss on their own, but parents should still supervise to ensure proper technique. Consider buying flossers with handles to make it easier to reach back teeth.

Open up and Say Ahh

Once teeth begin to emerge — or at least by the child’s first birthday, it’s time to schedule your child’s first dental checkup. If your child is nervous, ask your dental office if you and your child can visit in advance so there are no surprises. In some cases, you may want to consider modeling the visit at home. Use a stuffed animal or doll to represent the patient and show your child how the dentist will look at teeth and gums, and then let your child model the behavior on their own.

Make it Fun

Consider letting your child choose his or her own toothbrush featuring a favorite character or color. Toothbrush stands and colorful cups make the experience fun and personal. To make sure your child brushes for the recommended amount of time, look for toothbrushes that play timed music or sing a song that lasts about two minutes to ensure your child brushes for the recommended amount of time. Offer small rewards like stickers for a job well done or use a chart with gold stars to show compliance. When corrections are needed, don’t nag — offer gentle guidance. Finally, always offer praise when brushing and flossing are completed.

Model Good Habits

Finally, make sure you set a good example by eating (and offering) healthy snacks, brushing and flossing and visiting the dentist regularly. Show your child that good oral health is important to you, and there’s a good chance it will become important to your child as well.

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