With Halloween just days away, parents are well aware that gobs of sugar are about to be consumed by our children. But what if your kids regularly resists brushing their teeth? Adding more sugar to their diet will likely only fuel a bigger fight over oral hygiene in the coming weeks.
Let me offer some tips for getting kids to brush their teeth so you can allow them to indulge in their trick-or-treat candies fight-free this season.
1. Try the old “When… Then …” tactic
Instead of forcing a toothbrush into your child’s mouth and potentially triggering a gag reflex – or worse, a kick in the shins – try this instead: simulate their desire to want to brush with a “when… then…” statement. It sounds like this:
When your teeth are brushed, then I’ll know it’s time to start tuck-in stories.
This implies that we have a schedule in our house. First we brush our teeth, then we read stories. I can’t make you brush your teeth, but I can keep to the schedule. If 7 pm is bedtime and you have not yet brushed, I will say good night in a pleasant tone, explaining there was simply no time left for stories.
In the morning, when they wake up with disgusting breath from refusing to brush the night before, you can repeat the approach with the morning schedule as soon as they request some juice or breakfast cereal that has sugar in it.
YES you many have a juice. When yesterday’s sugar bugs are brushed off your teeth, then I will know you are ready for more sugar today.
2. Let them brush their own teeth first
So much of the resistance to teeth brushing is children feeling manhandled. Try having your kids brush your teeth for a change and you’ll get a sense of how overtaken and powerless they feel.
To help reverse this, let your kids brush their own teeth first. Yes, they will do a poor job because they don’t have the motor skills to really be effective at this job until about the age of seven, but let them get their practice time in and feel a sense of agency and control over themselves and their body.
After they have brushed, you can do a round yourself, simply explaining you are the tooth inspector here to check their work. Then, with toothbrush in hand, scrub each tooth.
“Are there any germs on this tooth? Hmm no, none here. You got that little critter hiding back behind this molar, too! Where am I gonna find some plaque? Is there any on this front tooth? Gosh it looks like you got it all!”
Who doesn’t like hearing a compliment about their competency? Meanwhile, you’ve brushed their teeth as required.
Kids resist tooth brushing because they see it as a fight they want to win. Instead of getting more insistent and upset, try getting more silly and fun. Start cracking jokes and being lighthearted. Get a little tickle fight going or put some toothpaste on their nose. Stick a cotton ball up your own nose or dance a jig. Do whatever you fancy to break the tension and you’ll find your little resister starts to cooperate.
Why does this work? Because kids have dualistic thinking: you are either the enemy or the ally. If you are being a goofball, you must be an ally and so there is no battle to be won.
4. Shake up the routine
Yes, it’s ideal to brush your teeth before bed and after breakfast, but if your kids are in the habit of fighting with you at these times, shake up the routine. So long as they brush their teeth at least three times a day and are more cooperative, you are on your way. When the pattern of fighting over brushing stops, you can change the schedule back.
5. Other methods
The end goal is to prevent our children from having cavities. Remember, you can also get rid of the plaque by using less traditional ways:
- By eating natural “detergent foods” like apples, celery and carrots
- Using an oral rinse
- Dental sticks
- Putting toothpaste on your finger instead of a bristle brush
If you find these are more effective, be sure to get a professional cleaning more frequently.
6. Logical consequence
For older children who require less supervision in the bathroom, simply keep the association between freedoms and responsibilities together. Explain that they need to prove they can take care of their oral hygiene properly if the would like to eat teeth-harming foods like Halloween candy, sugary drinks and so on.
If they are not caring for their teeth properly, the candy can be confiscated and pop will not be purchased for the household until they resume proper brushing. If you care for your teeth, you get candy. If you don’t, then no candy. Seems simple enough, right? But it only works if you can implement this without getting harsh. Stay matter of fact. If you go all Judge Judy they will look for a way to get back at you.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
If you must have sweets, go for those that dissolve quickly in your mouth. Candies that stick around (like lollipops, caramels, jelly beans and hard candies), make it difficult for saliva to wash the sugar away. Snacks like cookies, cakes or other desserts contain a high amount of sugar as well, which can cause tooth decay over time. If you can't resist your sweets, eat them as dessert after a main meal instead of several times a day between meals. And when possible, brush your teeth after eating anything sweet.
Chips, bread, pasta or crackers can be just as harmful to the teeth as candy. Starches made from white flour are simple carbohydrates and can linger in your mouth and break down into simple sugars. Bacteria, in turn, feed on these sugars and produce acid, which causes tooth decay.
Not only does pop contain a high amount of sugar, but both regular and diet pop also contain the mineral phosphorus, as well as carbonation that wear away and thin the enamel on your teeth. Over time, drinking a lot of pop can also cause teeth to become darker and more yellow. Bottled iced teas and lemonade, for example, are some of the biggest offenders.
Although fruit is an important part of a healthy diet, fruit juice can cause problems for your teeth. If your favourite store-bought juices are loaded with sugar, your teeth can wear down. If you regularly drink fruit juices, use a straw to avoid a having a large amount of liquid in your mouth at once.
It’s OK to eat these kinds of foods, but don’t suck on them or keep them in your mouth for a long period of time. The acids in foods like lemons and pickles, for example, can erode the enamel of your teeth.
Honey is delicious, but if it is consumed regularly it can cause tooth decay. The same goes for dried fruits like raisins, apricots, pineapple, etc. Dried fruit has highly concentrated sugars, and its gummy-like texture can cling to teeth just like candy.
Even so-called health drinks are brimming with danger for your teeth. Sports drinks are acidic and full of sugar, while some vitamin waters contain as much sugar as candy bars. Chewable vitamins – from multivitamins to large chewable vitamin C tablets – also contain a concentrated acid that tends to cling to and between teeth.
High-fibre foods work like a detergent in the mouth, not only physically “scrubbing” the teeth, but also stimulating saliva flow. Saliva is the mouth’s first line of defense, because it neutralizes tooth-damaging acids, and contains calcium and phosphates that help rebuild minerals leached away by bacterial acids. Try fruits and vegetables with a high water content like apples, carrots and celery to clean plaque from teeth and freshen breath.
Are you really surprised with this one? When it comes to oral health, water is indispensable. It’s the primary component of saliva, and is important to both tooth and gum health.
The calcium, phosphates and vitamin D in cheese, milk and other dairy products are important minerals for oral health. Your teeth are made mostly of calcium, and without enough in your diet, you lower your resistance and increase your risk of developing tooth decay and other problems. Are you vegan? There are many calcium-fortified juices, soy milks and other foods available that can supply as much calcium to your diet as milk does.
Chewing sugarless gums or mints after meals and snacks can help rinse harmful acid off your teeth to help you preserve tooth enamel. On the flip side, chewing gum containing sugar may actually increase your chances of developing a cavity.
Green and black teas contain compounds called polyphenols that interact with plaque and uppress harmful bacteria, preventing them from growing or producing tooth-attacking acid. This not only helps to prevent cavities, but also reduces inflammation and the chances of gum disease.
Many nuts provide vitamins and minerals that help your teeth. These include peanuts (calcium and vitamin D), almonds (high levels of calcium that help both teeth and gums), cashews (stimulate saliva and help clean teeth) and walnuts (fibre, folic acid, iron, thiamine, magnesium, iron, niacin, vitamin E, vitamin B6, potassium and zinc).
Food rich in vitamins A, C, and D as well as calcium and phosphorus, are all good for your teeth overall. Try eating more beef, eggs, fish, potatoes, spinach, fortified cereals, tofu, leafy green vegetables, beans, whole grains and poultry.
NEXT: DIY Options For Teeth Whitening
Strawberries may help whiten teeth because they contain an enzyme called malic acid, which can be found in some whitening toothpastes, said Louisa Maccan-Graves, celebrity beauty expert and author of "Hollywood Beauty Secrets: Remedies to the Rescue," told AOL Health. You can mash up the strawberry or just rub it on your teeth, cut in half. Leave the juice on your teeth for one minute and then rinse with water, said Maccan-Graves. Dr. Steven Roth, cosmetic and implant dentistry expert, agreed, stating that the fiber in strawberries also behaves as a natural cleaner by removing bacteria from the teeth and mouth. More From Aol Health.: Anti-Aging Foods Improve Your Memory 25 Easy Instant Energy Boosters
According to Dr. Jeffrey Gross, who teaches in the graduate periodontal program at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, these fruits and veggies act like natural stain removers. The reason: They increase saliva production, which is the body's built-in cleaning agent. "It may sound hard to believe, but some people swear that rubbing raw carrot sticks on your teeth will make them look brighter," said Gross. The added bonus: "These foods are high in vitamin C, which prevents gum disease and gingivitis and kills odor-causing bacteria," Dr. Michael Apa, who specializes in cosmetic dentistry and facial aesthetics in New York City, told AOL Health.
Citrus fruit, such as oranges and pineapples, also cause the mouth to produce more saliva, which help clean the teeth and whiten your smile, said Apa. Lemons, in particular, are particularly good for teeth whitening. "Just as they naturally 'bleach' your hair, lemons will lighten and brighten your teeth," Roth told AOL Health. He suggested rinsing with half water, half lemon juice once or twice a week. However, do not rinse with this concoction more than two times a week and do not rinse with straight lemon juice. "Overdoing it would be too acidic, which can be damaging to the teeth."
"Dairy products have lactic acid, which decreases gum disease and maintains development and maintenance of teeth," said Apa. "Even the milk in coffee counts -- and it has the added benefit of [decreasing] coffee's staining ability." Along with protecting and strengthening the enamel, hard cheeses, like cheddar, are more effective at cleaning and whitening the teeth than softer cheeses, since hard cheese helps remove other food particles. "And keep in mind that dairy products and foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D are important not only for healthy teeth but your jawbone, the foundation for your teeth," added Apa.
All of the experts agreed that baking soda is one of the strongest -- and safest -- whitening ingredients out there because it's an acid neutralizer that gently removes stains and buildup from the enamel. If this mild abrasive agent is not already mixed into your toothpaste, you can sprinkle a bit on top of your paste each day. Roth also suggested brushing with straight baking soda twice a month. "This is similar to what your dental hygienist does."
When drinking dark beverages, like soda or grape juice, Roth suggested sipping them through a straw. "The straw allows food dyes to bypass teeth altogether."
Gross and Maccan-Graves both stated that rinsing with this antiseptic a couple of times a month can also brighten your smile, thanks to its oxidizing agents. Many mouthwashes are alcohol based, but hydrogen peroxide is an antiseptic. "Mouthwash kills existing bacteria, but hydrogen peroxide prevents the growth of bacteria," said Gross. "You can gargle daily with hydrogen peroxide, but it always needs to be done in a 50/50 solution with water. Hydrogen peroxide is good for preventing infections and can also be helpful for preventing bad breath, which is often caused by bacteria." Mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide with water (about one tablespoon each) and swish around teeth for 60 seconds. "After a minute, spit it out, leaving the bubbling and whitening action of the peroxide [to] sit on teeth for another minute or two, then rinse mouth with water," said Maccan-Graves.
Apa advised brushing daily with a whitening toothpaste. "Crest Weekly Clean is a good product because it contains heavy silica ingredients that work to brush stains away," he said. Most over-the-counter whitening strips contain a peroxide-based whitening gel to brighten teeth, and Apa recommends Crest 2-Hour Express Whitestrips, which are made with an advanced-seal, no-slip technology that allows you to talk, drink water and go about your day. More From Aol Health.: Anti-Aging Foods Improve Your Memory 25 Easy Instant Energy Boosters