If you have kids, you know how difficult it can be to teach good tooth-brushing habits. It can take many sessions at the sink to help them learn how to hold a brush, how much toothpaste to use and how to reach all their teeth -- not to mention keeping them still long enough to learn all this.
But once they've gotten the hang of brushing, teaching them how to floss is an important follow-up. Floss is an interdental cleaning device, meaning it helps remove food and debris between teeth that the toothbrush misses [source: ADA]. Flossing helps polish teeth, fights the development of plaque and keeps bad breath at bay. It's never too late to start flossing, but the earlier your kids get into the habit, the better.
Flossing can actually be a fun and easy extension of your kids' oral care routine (no, really!). Following are five practical tips to keep floss in your kids' hands and working through their teeth.
Chart Their Progress
Having a flossing chart in the bathroom is a great reminder for kids to floss at least once a day. Have your kids use their favorite stickers to count how many days in a row they floss. Use non-monetary incentives such as staying up a little later on the weekends or an extra story at bedtime as a weekly finishing line. If they see something fun at the end of the tunnel, they'll be even more motivated to keep flossing.
You can find printable charts online, ask your children's dentist if they have a premade chart or just draw one yourself. Just make a grid with the days of the week on one side, and the flossing activity on the other.
Make It Fun
Make flossing into a storytelling event, dance party or an undercover math lesson! Here are some ways to keep kids focused on their flossing while having a great time:
- Choose short, snappy songs to play during flossing time. Find a steady but slow beat (flossing back and forth too fast can damage gums) to help kids move their hands in time to the floss. In the beginning, you'll want them to get comfortable with the floss against their teeth and gums, but as kids get used to flossing, make sure they're using the proper technique.
- Kids love a battle between good and evil. What better way to grab their attention than to make up an adventure story involving evil bacteria and the mighty power of floss. The best part about this story is they get to control the hero by, you guessed it, flossing!
- Kids love to look in their mouths, so use that curiosity to your advantage. Help your children learn to count their teeth while flossing. Since little kids have 20 teeth in their mouths, flossing can help them learn to count up to what sounds like a huge number to them.
Get Them Their Own Tools
The American Dental Association recommends using an 18-inch piece of floss wound around your two middle fingers through your teeth, then gently guiding it between your teeth. Winding a long piece of floss around a young child's finger -- and keeping it there while actually flossing -- is a tricky feat, even for some adults. Luckily, kids have way cooler options to make flossing fun and productive.
Easy to hold and use, kid-friendly floss sticks are available in a wide variety of colors and characters. They come in packs of about 50 to 100 sticks, so children have plenty to practice with. Since the sticks are on the small side, kids might need two per flossing session -- one each for the upper and lower teeth. Make sure your kids know to throw away the sticks (and any other type of floss) after each use because -- not surprisingly -- floss should never be reused.
Reinforce Their Efforts
Good habits take time to develop, so give your kids some positive reinforcement. The combination of having a plan for flossing each day, combined with the repetition of flossing, will naturally instill flossing after brushing as a good habit [source: Newby-Clark]. A combination of gentle reminders about flossing, as well as praise when kids floss (both with help and on their own), will help keep them excited about taking care of their teeth.
Set an Example
What better way to show a great example of health to your children than by being proactive with your own teeth? Brushing and flossing your teeth alongside your kids will reinforce good habits to them, and following up on their oral care is a great reminder to keep up with your own. Teaching them to properly care for their mouth sets the foundation for a lifetime of healthy teeth.
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- American Academy of Periodontology. "Protecting Children's Oral Health." (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.perio.org/consumer/children.htm
- American Dental Association (ADA). "Floss and Other Interdental Cleaners." (Oct. 22, 2011) http://www.ada.org/1318.aspx
- American Dental Association (ADA). "Floss." (Nov 3, 2011) http://www.ada.org/5625.aspx?currentTab=1#floss
- Delta Dental. "Facts about flossing." (Oct. 22, 2011) http://www.deltadentalins.com/oral_health/flossing3.html
- Delta Dental. "The other half of cleaning teeth: Flossing finishes the job that brushing can't do alone." (Nov. 3, 2011) http://www.deltadentalil.com/Flossing_Finishes_the_Job_20060920
- Freeman, David. "Flossing Teeth for Dummies: No More Excuses!" WedMD. (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/healthy-teeth-10/flossing-floss-sticks?page=1
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- Newby-Clark, Ian. "Five Things You Need to Know About Effective Habit Change." Zen Habits. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://zenhabits.net/2007/11/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-effective-habit-change/
- Oral B. "History of Dental Floss." (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.oralb.com/topics/history-of-dental-floss.aspx
- Oral B. "Products for Babies and Kids." (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.oralb.com/products/oral-b-babies-kids.aspx
- South Dakota Department of Health. "Brushing and Flossing Chart." (Oct. 21, 2011) http://www.doh.sd.gov/oralHealth/PDF/BrushChart.pdf
- WebMD. "Basic Dental Care - Infants and Children." (Oct. 27, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/tc/basic-dental-care-infants-and-children
- WebMD. "Dental Health and Your Child's Teeth." (Oct. 28, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/dental-health-your-childs-teeth