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Good Habits for Healthy Teeth

Like other habits in life (exercising regularly, eating properly, financial savvy, etc.) it’s best to start kids out on the right foot when it comes to taking care of their teeth. Getting into a regular routine when they’re young will help them keep up the habits into adulthood. Here are some facts and tips to keep in mind when it comes to good habits for healthy teeth.

Good Habits for Healthy Teeth Kids can brush with toothpaste by age three.

Start Brushing Twice a Day

Although kids will start losing their baby teeth around age five or six, that’s no excuse to wait until elementary school before starting proper dental care; tooth decay can still occur in baby teeth and impact how permanent teeth grow in. When baby’s first tooth arrives, you should start cleaning their gums daily with a wet washcloth but no toothpaste.

When kids are old enough to spit out toothpaste (probably around three years old), they should brush twice a day or after meals with a pea-sized amount of paste. Try to brush for at least three minutes; to make the activity less mundane, play a song on the stereo to pass the time.

Visit the Dentist

The American Dental Association recommends visiting the dentist by a child’s first birthday. You can see a pediatric dentist to provide guidance on how to avoid future dental problems. They can also give you advice on proper brushing and flossing techniques and more information about fluoride treatments. Visits to the dentist every six months are also advised.

Create Positive Associations

If your child has that innate fear of the dentist that affects so many kids, try creating a positive association with each trip to the dentist. Make it a tradition to go see a movie together or serve their favorite dinner that evening. Pick anything that will provide a “light at the end of the tunnel” without outright bribing them to make visit without a fuss.

Set the Example

The cliché “monkey see, monkey do” was coined for a reason. If your kids see that you’re brushing and flossing frequently, and that you make regular trips to the dentist, they’ll be less likely to put up a fight about it. Remember that by developing simple habits for healthy teeth when they’re young will save your kids (and you) a lot of pain and money in the long run.

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Alternative Traditions to the Tooth Fairy

Losing a baby tooth is a sure sign that kids are growing up. And the most common way to celebrate this event is with a visit from the Tooth Fairy.

Alternative Traditions to the Tooth Fairy Check out some different ideas for marking your child’s next lost tooth.

The origin of this benevolent fairy who swipes the teeth from under pillows and leaves coins (or cash, these days) isn’t clearly defined, although it could be linked to a 18th century French fairy tale. The story, where a mouse changes into a fairy to help a queen defeat an evil king by hiding under his pillow and knocking out his teeth, is a bit more disturbing than our current narrative. The Tooth Fairy as we know it started making appearances in American plays, books, and cartoons in the early part of the 20th century (find out more with What’s the Origin of the Tooth Fairy? and Tooth Fairy Origins).

Although February 28 is unofficially National Tooth Fairy Day, here are a few alternative ways to mark this milestone in your child’s life, if you’d rather not perpetuate the myth of the Tooth Fairy in your household.

Buy a New Toothbrush

Instead of leaving money under their pillow, take the kids to the drug store to pick out a new toothbrush (it’s a good idea to replace your toothbrush every three months anyway). Let them pick one with a favorite cartoon character. If they’re losing teeth faster than they need new brushes, pick out other fun toilettes instead.

Learn About Another Culture

Other cultures around the world have different traditions when it comes to rituals associated with the disposal of baby teeth. In early Europe, teeth would often be buried or burned to prevent witches from casting spells on your child. In Japan, to ensure that new teeth with grow straight, one should throw lost lower teeth into the air and upper teeth to be thrown down to the ground (outside, obviously). Although you don’t want to scare kids with too much superstition, these traditions can become an interactive family activity that will give kids something else to focus on besides money.

Create a Scrapbook

When kids lose a tooth, take photo of their new smile and put them in a scrapbook. Entries can keep track of how old they are, which tooth they lost, how it came out, something special about that day, and any other fun facts. Keeping track of lost teeth in a book may sound a little silly, but it’s a great way to mark the milestone and will give kids a keepsake of that era in their childhood.

Redeemable Coupons

So, kids might not be so keen on waking up to find the absence of a dollar under their pillow. Instead of money, make coupons that are “Good for one hour of snuggling” or “Get out of bed-making for a week.” Think of special activities that your child loves (or chores that they hate), and give them a few “freebies.” The quality family time or an exemption from unappealing activities will, hopefully, bring an even bigger, toothless smile to their face than a few bucks under their pillow.

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Healthy Alternatives to Sugary Snacks

Kids of all ages (yes, grown-ups, I’m looking at you) love sugary snacks. Unfortunately, they’re not very good for us. Too much sugar can contribute to diabetes and obesity, and it can take a toll on the teeth as well.

Healthy habits for kids. Some of the sweetest snacks come in natural packaging.

If the kids want a snack, try one of the following recipes. And they’re so easy that older kids can probably make them on their own!

Air-Popped Popcorn
When you use a Hot Air Popper, you don’t need to worry about the added sugar, fat, and sodium that you’ll get with pre-packaged microwave popcorn. To give the popcorn a bit of flavor, sprinkle a sweet spice like cinnamon or nutmeg on top.

DIY Snack Mix
Pre-packaged snack and trial mixes probably have more salt and sugar added than necessary. When you make your own mix, you know exactly what your kids are putting into their bodies and they won’t go picking through the bag to avoid a truly despised nut. Use whole grain cereal or mini crackers, nuts like walnut pieces or pistachios, or dried fruit (it’s even better if you can make your own with a fruit dehydrator; if not, be sure to read nutrition labels to see if any sugar has been added to the naturally sweet fruit). Individualize mixes to each child’s taste, making it an extra special snack just for them!

Nature’s Candy
Some of the sweetest snacks come in natural packaging. The natural sugars in fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, and grapes are always a better option than the processed and refined sugars in cookies and candy. To make eating fruit a fun activity, cut up fruit into chunks to make Raw Fruit Kabobs. If you’d like to add a bit of protein in your child’s diet, mix fruit with yogurt or cottage cheese.

If you have your own suggestions for simple and (almost) sugar-free snacks, visit the Forum to share your ideas with other parents!

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