It never fails. You go to the dentist, and no matter how well the rest of the appointment goes you hear:
“Have you been flossing?”
For many adults, this is an uncomfortable question, since studies show that roughly one-third of us don’t floss regularly.
But, the question is even worse when it’s your kids sitting in that chair. Our kids have no shame, proudly proclaiming that they never floss, or rarely floss. It feels like the hygienist is judging you as they turn to you and tell you how important it is to teach your kids to floss.
It isn’t like you haven’t tried. You’ve told your child that the dentist will want to see they have been brushing. You tell them that it’s important. But like bedtime and brushing, flossing is one of those things that they seem to fight with you about, just on principle.
And when you tell your kids that brushing is important, you’re right. The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day to remove plaque buildup and food particles where a brush can’t reach. Close to 40% of your tooth’s surface is missed if you skip flossing. Skipping the floss is like mowing half of your lawn and deciding the other half doesn’t need attention!
But how do you convince kids to floss? Below we’ve listed out seven suggestions to help get your little one on board with flossing.
7 Tips to Get Your Kids Flossing Teeth
Explain it so they will understand
One of the biggest hurdles for kids when it comes to brushing and flossing – as well as almost anything else – is getting them to understand why it’s important. Words like plaque, gingivitis, and decay mean nothing to little ones. Instead, try explaining why it’s important for them to care for their dental health in ways they will understand.
For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics has educational materials for kids called Mouth Monsters. By making the risks to their dental health relatable to kids, Mouth Monsters presents a fun and entertaining way to get kids to floss.
Use a tinted mouthwash
Let’s face it. Flossing isn’t exactly immediately gratifying. And kids are all about things that they can appreciate in the moment.
If they skip flossing, children see no immediate consequences to that choice. And while you might nag them about it, they won’t see any real problems with not flossing for years. Then it’s too late, and it’s time for fillings, caps, and other dental treatments.
But when we make it something they can see, they are more likely to want to participate. Especially when they can see progress toward improvement.
Trying letting your kids use a mouthwash that colours their plaque, so they can see what they are up against. By having real, concrete evidence that plaque exists they will be more inclined to floss. And as time goes on and they can see the results of flossing, they will be hooked.
Songs and Videos
Is there a short song or video that your child loves? Flossing time can be a great time to reward them by letting them pick something to listen to or watch while they go about the job of flossing their teeth.
Sing their favourite song to them, or let them watch a favourite online video while brushing and flossing. As long as they can also keep their attention on the task at hand, entertaining young children with a simple reward like this can make getting them up to the sink that much easier. Feel free to get goofy with them, too, while they listen to their favourite song. The more fun you have with this time, the more positive an experience it will be for them.
Use a flossing chart
Flossing itself isn’t instantly gratifying, but we can make the act of flossing more goal oriented with a flossing chart. Print one out, and put it on the wall near where your child flosses. For every day that they floss, give the day a checkmark or, even better, a gold star sticker. Think of fun, non-food related rewards for when your child fills up the entire chart.
Make it easier with different tools
Sometimes the biggest obstacle to getting your little one to floss is the job itself. The recommended guidelines for flossing can be overwhelming for little fingers that are still learning fine motor skills. Instead, start with floss sticks, where a piece of floss is stretched between a U-shaped piece of plastic. There are also water based electric flossing devices specifically geared to children.
Let them pick their tools
Most of a child’s day is made up with following the directions given to them by others. So, when the opportunity arises to make their own choices, they relish it. When it comes to brushing and flossing, you can use this to help you get your kids excited about keeping their teeth clean.
Let them get involved with picking out their brush and the kinds of flossing tools that they want to use. Having made the decision they are more likely to be enthusiastic at the prospect of using those tools.
Brush and floss with them
Probably the most influential of the suggestions, brushing and flossing with your child can be more effective than the other strategies, combined. Our children do what we do, and if we show them that, as parents, we recognize oral health as important, they will do the same.
Simply brush and floss at the same time that they do. This gives them the chance to see the proper techniques in action as well as spend some time with mom and dad.
Children have a natural curiosity and joy about the world around them and love to use their imagination to turn everything into a game. Use these natural tendencies in your child to help them set up a habit that will last a life time and bring them good health and a great smile.