Dental hygiene is often one of the biggest challenges for parents of children who are just getting old enough to brush their own teeth—and old enough to resist doing so. Forming good dental hygiene early in life sets a strong foundation for great dental health throughout adulthood. For this reason, it is important that parents set a good example, help their children learn to brush and floss regularly, and teach their children how important dental health really is. With some consistency, you should have a relatively easy time teaching your children the habits that they need.

Set a Good Example Through Your Own Habits

A child who is old enough to brush his or her own teeth is likely to balk after seeing that Mom or Dad doesn’t practice the same standards of oral hygiene. Avoid giving your child the chance to say “But you don’t do it!” by brushing your teeth regularly, just as you want your child to do. Let young children see you brushing and flossing with the door open, then ask your child if he or she wants to do the same and brush like a big kid. Most young kids will be thrilled to brush independently after a short lifetime of parental assistance.

Use Positive Reinforcement to Encourage Regular Hygiene

A great trick that many parents use for promoting all kinds of positive behaviors is positive reinforcement, which you can work out by using a chore chart for brushing. Give your child open spots on the chart for every day of the week, at bedtime, morning and midday. For every time that your child cooperatively agrees to brush and floss, let him or her choose a bright sticker to place on the chart. Once a whole week fills up with stickers—or a month, or however long you choose—let your child redeem those stickers for a healthy treat, such as some time outdoors at the park, a new book from the children’s bookstore, or a day out at the zoo.

Point Out the Importance of Brushing Well

Children won’t learn that brushing is important unless somebody tells them, and as a parent, your job is to do just that. Instead of just telling him or her to brush, explain why you brush and why it is important that he or she does the same. This is a discussion that you can have at home just as easily as at the dentist. While a dentist or dental hygienist will certainly back you up, you might prefer to have the conversation in private, where your child will be less distracted and more apt to listen.

Make the Dentist a Positive Place to Be

When your child brushes and flosses regularly, the dentist will be less scary, because there will be less in-depth plaque cleaning involved and hopefully no cavities to fill. Tell your child what a good job he or she did after a trip to your Mission Viejo dentist, especially if the dentist had a good word to say about your child’s dental hygiene. The dentist should not be scary, and dental hygiene should not be a routine that your child shies away from; rather, these important rituals will become even more important as your child grows older and appreciates knowing how to take care of his or her own mouth.