Last summer, we were blessed with the opportunity to bring the kids to Orlando. One of the things that allowed us to do this with four children (baby #5 was still in the tummy) was to make do with unholy flight schedules with layovers. On the way home, since I knew we were going to be very late (what with the time difference), I made sure that after dinner during our layover, I took the kids to the washroom and brushed their teeth. One lady who was in there with us commented on how serious I was with dental hygiene. I know some people find it strange that I pack my younger children’s toothbrush whenever I know we are going to be out late (usually at some friend’s house). I make sure to brush their teeth before leaving since I know they will fall asleep on the way home.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit my dental hygienist. Interesting what new things I learned from her. Of course I knew about brushing the children’s teeth at least twice a day and flossing. I asked her what age I should be allowing the kids to brush their own teeth. She said parents should be brushing their children’s teeth until they are around 8-9 years old (!). This is especially true for boys, in her experience with patients. She said it takes that long a time for them to develop the habit of brushing all teeth sides and brushing long enough (2 minutes) so that there are no spots missed. Wow, this IS serious business. I also learned how to tell them to relax their mouth when you are brushing the outside of their teeth. My 4-year old has the tendency to tense her muscles so that I give up brushing the sides of her teeth.
After that visit, I reminded my 12 year old (who loves to brush her teeth while reading a book…actually I think she does almost everything while reading a book) to concentrate on brushing when she’s brushing. It only takes 2 minutes anyway. And I really think it will pay off (or actually, we would save a lot from dental visits). My 6-year old son really does pay attention when I brush his teeth. He reminds me which sides of his teeth I missed. It’s the same way when he counts to 30 when he is washing his hands. Habits can really be formed and we can help our children develop good ones. Whether it’s hygiene, eating smart and healthy, exercise and an active life, going to bed and waking up early, fixing beds, bringing dishes to the sink after eating, etc., indeed, doing something long enough can make it almost automatic or can make us want to do it.
So, even if it sometimes a nuisance to have to brush the children’s teeth aside from my own, I just have to tell myself it’s all part of the process of teaching them the habit. Like all good habits we would like to develop, it takes hard work and there are days we just don’t feel like doing them. But if we press on, there are benefits to reap – big or small.