If you deal with children in your practice at all, it’s not hard to see where so many of them get their anxiety about dental visits: just look at their parents. It’s been well-established that kids learn by their parents’ example. When adults approach dental appoints with anxiety, their children are bound to subliminally pick up on the cues and react accordingly. But this cause-and-effect can work to form positive views of dentists, as well — in fact, for all aspects of dental care. From staying relaxed during dentist visits to encouraging daily brushing, rinsing, and flossing, part of a dentist’s job is reminding parents to consistently demonstrate good overall dental hygiene if they wish their children to grow up with healthy teeth and mouths.

Children, especially toddlers, need to see their parent taking care of their teeth morning and evening. Suggest to parents that they take time to answer questions and explain the process (in small doses–it’s more important for them to see action than to hear a lecture.)

Of course, setting an example is a great start, there are plenty of other ways parents can encourage children to take care of their teeth. For example:

Power Up

Kids live in an age of electronics; cool tech is entwined with almost every aspect of their lives. Why should dental care be any different? Most parents and even pediatric dentists will agree that a great way to help motivate children to practice good dental hygiene habits is the electric toothbrush.

Nowadays, drug store shelves are lines with electric (battery powered) toothbrushes that are actually aimed at the toddler market, including ones based on everything from Loony Tunes to Star Wars. Going electric makes brushing faster, easier, and more fun … and smaller, softer bristles are gentle on delicate gums.

Getting kids to floss can be a trick, but going with a powered method works here, too. A water-based flosser like those made by Waterpik are far less likely to cause pain, plus they can be more fun to use. As a bonus, they’re actually much more effective when combined with regular flossing.

Get Gross

Negative reinforcement can sometimes help. Point out to kids what a pre- and post-brushed mouth looks like. Disclosing tablets can help show where plaque is hiding, even after brushing; flossing after brushing can help show why the brush is not enough by itself.

One parent went so far as to save a dead tooth the dentist had pulled. Kept in a sealed packet, the father would show the discolored, cracked tooth to his kids as a way of demonstrating the results of poor dental hygiene. Gross? Yes. But apparently effective.

One important word of caution here: showing children that their brushing is ineffective can be a bit frustrating. That can lead to them applying more pressure (bad in itself) without any significant improvement. It’s important to explain that brushing better will help much more than simply brushing harder.

When Everything Else Fails … Bribe.

Where negative reinforcement might fail, a little bribery might succeed. Kids are promised rewards for everything from household chores to getting good grades … why not for dental health. It could be argued that a healthy mouth is its own reward … but the fact is, it is the parent why has to foot the dentist bills, so any encouragement on their part could be considered justified.

At the end of the day, kids are still kids: they have trouble focusing on anything that does not provide an immediate, tangible benefit. Anything that parents can do to help their children today will hopefully be the beginnings of a lifetime of good dental care.