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How a dental hygienist gets her kids to brush their damn teeth

Getting your kids to brush their teeth can be a nightmare – an unending, soul-destroying nightmare (*emphasis mine* – Emily Writes, Spinoff Parents editor and hater of brushing my child’s teeth). As part of Oral Health Month, dental hygienist and mother of three Leanne Jones – who seen the consequences of kids not brushing properly – shares her tips and tricks to get kids brushing.

Our toothbrush jar has five toothbrushes and three tubes of different toothpaste.

My youngest son Miles, five, is quite stubborn. He’ll brush with both of his brothers, but only if they also use Colgate’s bright blue Spiderman or Minions toothpaste. My eldest Isaac, 11, wants to use the plain toothpaste and so the conversation goes…

Needless to say, I know the work involved in convincing kids to take good care of their teeth.

The author Leanne Jones and her three children.

As a mum studying oral health at AUT University, I actually laughed out loud when I heard kids were meant to floss. The idea of weaving little pieces of thread through my boys’ tiny teeth seemed like a joke.

But since I started work at a community dental clinic, I’ve stopped laughing. The reality of poor dental hygiene is all too real.

In New Zealand, over 40% percent of five year olds have had one or more cavities. I see children whose baby teeth are already black. And sure, while that might not be the norm, most of the children I see could do with a better brushing routine.

Because July is Oral Health Month I wanted to take the opportunity to give parents some tips on how to improve the health of their kids’ teeth without tears.

Here are my top tips and tricks:

Be consistent

Start early and follow the same routine every time you brush. This might be something small like letting littlies have a go, praising them and then asking if you can take a turn. Or perhaps you brush every night in the bath. When baby teeth are coming through there aren’t many so it doesn’t take too long!

Brush with them

If you brush with your kids they’re more likely to brush for longer and try harder. This is especially true of older children. Standing with them gives you the chance to check out their technique.

If it’s party time – its toothpaste time

Use parties as an excuse to get an extra clean in. If your kids are going somewhere where there’s likely to be sugar and snacks, make it a condition that you all have a big glass of water and brush afterwards. Drinking water after eating lollies is a great first step, and brushing afterwards is even better.

Let your children choose their toothbrush and toothpaste

My boys always love this. It gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own routine. If you are really struggling you can also buy kids battery powered toothbrushes to keep kids entertained while they brush. It sounds gimmicky but it works.

Dance or sing

If doing a dance or singing a song is what it takes then do it! There are plenty of apps or YouTube videos that play songs for toothbrush time. If you can make brushing fun, the routine will get easier.

Tell them why brushing is important

Kids love to learn. Teaching your kids about bad bacteria and what it does to teeth will help them understand why brushing is important. If they know why they should do something, they are more likely to do it.

Leanne Jones is a dental hygienist based in Auckland, her sons Isaac,11, Liam, 7, and Miles, 5, were absolutely a part of testing each of these tips!

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