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Tips on toothbrushing

Parents often ask me a mouthful of questions on how to get their children to brush their teeth daily. Let me polish off some answers that Im sure youll find worthwhile.

First, parents need to remember that children do not have an understanding about the long-term value of good oral hygiene. Instead, they view toothbrushing as a chore, something boring that you make them do after meals. In addition, children under the age of five do not have the coordination to clean every surface thoroughly, so they can benefit from some adult supervision.

Its important to make the process more fun. Buy different colors and flavors of toothpaste, and let your children experiment by mixing them. They only need a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, and be sure to tell them not to swallow it but to spit it out. This keeps fluoride from building up in their bodies, which can make the teeth develop white spots.

Brush your teeth with your children to set a good example. You can make funny faces in the mirror, or try having your children brush your teeth while you brush theirs. To make sure your child brushes each tooth, try naming each tooth for a friend or relative, and then make sure they are all cleaned by Mr. or Ms. Toothbrush.

Also, when they are done brushing, you can always pull out sunglasses to tell your children you are protecting yourself from the glare of their shiny teeth. Children will want to brush well on subsequent nights to see you do this again and again. The more your child wants to own the process of toothbrushing through fun activities like this, the easier the routine will become.

Hopefully, tips like this will brush away any concerns you have when it comes to making sure your childs teeth stay healthy.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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