It’s never too early to start preparing your kids for good oral hygiene. Good dental health is important for people of all ages, but instilling those good habits in children when they are young will benefit them as they grow older. Setting this standard early on can help to prevent issues like tooth decay, gum disease, loss of teeth, etc. Research has shown that inflammation from gum disease can put one at greater risk for other health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s. Preventative dental care needs to be started as soon as your baby’s teeth are visible. Here are 7 expert tips to help you implement great dental care habits for your children.

Daily Brushing and Flossing

Parents are encouraged to brush their child’s teeth twice a day up until their child is eight years old. At this age, your child should be able to take over and implement the oral care habits you’ve taught them. Daily brushing needs to happen twice a day, once in the morning and again before bed. Flossing needs to begin once your child’s teeth begin to touch each other. You’ll want to make sure to focus on the back molars when brushing, as they tend to get neglected due to the tight fit in the back of the mouth. Cavities often develop in the back molars first because of this. You can also ask your dentist to demonstrate for you how to brush your children’s teeth effectively. If you need help finding a great local dentistry, you can do a search on the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Make it Fun for Them

Create habits that make brushing time fun for your child. If they dread teeth brushings, it will make your job that much harder. You could come up with a fun teeth brushing song or music to play while brushing. Create a “teeth brushing” playlist and crank up the music while you’re cleaning their teeth. You could also download a fun app like Brush DJ. The app plays two minutes of music, which is the recommended length of time for brushing.

Another idea is to give your child a play toothbrush so they brush their favorite doll or stuffed toy while you brush their teeth. Children like to play “adult”, so they will have fun mimicking what you are doing and apply it to their doll / stuffed animal. Making this time fun and silly helps your child look forward to brushing time instead of looking at it at a chore.

Create Good Eating Habits

Sugary foods, like candy and cookies, can wreak havoc on your child’s teeth. The sugar can erode the enamel on their teeth and cause unwanted cavities. Limit their intake of sugary foods like candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, snacks, etc. (or just avoid them altogether) Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and nuts are better for their teeth and overall health as a whole. If the habit to eat healthy is implemented early on, it will be less of a struggle to maintain as they get older. Involving your child in food preparation will also help them feel excited about the food they are eating. Let them help you in choosing the meal to prepare, or simple side dish if you prefer to choose the meal yourself. Eating foods that are good for dental health will become like second nature to them as they grow up thanks to fun habits like this.

Regular Dental Checkups

The American Dental Association suggests that kids have a dental checkup by their first birthday. Generally, during the first visit your pediatric dentist will also demonstrate to you how to properly care for your child’s teeth at home in between visits. They can show you the proper ways to floss and brush your child’s teeth to avoid cavities and gum issues. These developmental stages of your child’s teeth are crucial in the health of your child’s primary teeth. Proper early preventative habits can help prevent unwanted oral health issues in the future, which saves you money in the long run. The CDC reports that proper dental care can reduce costs by nearly 40% over a 5 year period when children regularly see a pediatric dentist by 5 years old.

Using Child-Friendly Toothpaste

The adult toothpastes can be unpleasant for children, as flavors like mint and cinnamon can be too strong for them. It would be better to use child-friendly flavors, like bubblegum or fruit flavors, that do not contain any fluoride. These flavors tend to be milder and much more pleasant for your child to use.

Mouthguards for Sports

Mouthguards are said to prevent an estimated 200,000 teeth injuries each year. It would benefit your child to wear a mouthguard if they are active in sports or physical activities. Your child’s dentist can also make a custom fit mouthguard specifically for your child. It’s a small investment that could save on additional expenses down that road that could arise from teeth being knocked out or chipped if a mouthguard isn’t protecting them.

Use a Mirror

Make sure your child is facing a mirror while you stand behind them and brush their teeth. Have a little stool ready if they can’t see over the sink yet. Their attention will drift if they’re just staring at a wall or sitting on the toilet while you brush their teeth. While they are watching you brush their teeth, they’ll also pick up on motions you use and steps you take while brushing their teeth. (like applying toothpaste to the toothbrush, wetting the toothbrush, circular motions used while brushing, etc.) Children are visual, so make sure to give them the visual they need to retain good brushing habits.