Dental Hygiene Is Important For Kids' Self-Esteem & Here's How Parents Can Help, According To An Expert

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The physical ramifications of poor dental hygiene are often discussed, but there are less conversations about how oral care can influence your child's self-esteem. A global study conducted by Unilever Oral Care found a direct link between dental problems and self-esteem, a finding that reinforces why developing consistent tooth brushing at home is important. Since this can be a difficult task (bedtime and mornings are often the busiest times for families), Romper spoke with Donald L. Chi, DDS, PhD — recipient of Pediatric Dentist of the Year from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) — for the best ways to help your child overcome common tooth brushing challenges.

There are lot of reasons why a child might not take to tooth brushing. Whether it's related to sensory issues or a desire to go against the grain, as Washington Parent noted, plenty of kids out there struggle with this routine. I can attest to this personally because I was one of those kids — for whatever reason, I hated to brush my teeth. But luckily for me, I had parents who made sure I did it every morning and night.

Dr. Chi says parent involvement is key in developing consistent routines with kids. "Brushing together as a family and using timers with songs can help make toothbrushing more fun," he tells Romper.

If it's too chaotic to get the whole fam in the bathroom, Dr. Chi has other hacks you can try. "A reward calendar could be used to reinforce toothbrushing," he suggests. "Some children like electric toothbrushes. There is also a variety of fluoride toothpaste flavors available for children."

Of course, each child responds to different incentives. If your child likes to play video games, for instance, Dr. Chi proposes caregivers "place a toothbrush and toothpaste by the video game console," explaining that this method "would remind the child to brush before he or she starts playing video games."

"It’s all about establishing routines and sticking with healthy routines over time," he adds.

It's also important to understand why some kids are resistant to brushing and flossing, a common problem Dr. Chi examined in his conversation with Romper.

He explains:

There are many reasons children do not brush regularly. A common reason is that the child’s caregiver isn’t showing them how to do it properly. Another reason is that toothbrushing may not be a habit or part of the child’s everyday routines; according to Unilever Oral Care, 36% of parents in the U.S. aren’t regularly enforcing nightly brushing, 21% sometimes let their children go to school without brushing, and 18% sometimes let children skip brushing as a reward! Furthermore, some children simply forget to brush while other children face problems, like homelessness and hunger, that make toothbrushing a lower priority.

Another issue? Some caregivers don't understand how crucial dental hygiene is to a child's physical and mental well-being.

"Some parents do not enforce toothbrushing because they believe cavities in baby teeth are not a serious problem," Dr. Chi tells Romper. "After all, baby teeth eventually fall out. Other parents believe that brushing does not matter because their child will get cavities anyway. There is also the idea that caregivers have to pick their battles, in which case toothbrushing may be allowed to slide."

No matter how frustrating this battle might become, you don't want to let your child slide in the tooth brushing department. Just ask Dr. Chi, who elaborated on the consequences of poor dental hygiene.

"One of the possible consequences is tooth decay or cavities, which can cause toothaches and abscesses, require invasive dental treatments, and lead to other problems like missed school days and hospitalizations," he says. "Children who do not brush regularly can also have swollen or red gums (also known as gingivitis) that can lead to bad breath."

Additionally, there's a critical link between a child's self-esteem and their teeth.

"Lack of oral hygiene can lead to cavities, which are dark holes in the teeth," Dr. Chi explains. "These holes can become visible, which creates an esthetic problem when the holes are on front teeth. Large cavities may require placement of silver caps and can lead to being teased by peers when silver caps are noticeable."

In extreme cases, a dentist might have to remove a tooth if it isn't salvageable.

"When cavities get large and cannot be fixed, a tooth may need to be extracted. In this case, a child may end up having a missing tooth," he adds. "Having a missing tooth or a gap where should be a tooth can lead children to become self-conscious about their appearance. All of these scenarios can lead to poor self-esteem."

Arguably the most compelling piece of information, however, draws a relationship between dental pain and a child's ability to socialize.

"Unilever Oral Care’s global study also revealed that when children experience oral pain, they’re three times as likely to find it difficult to socialize and more likely to opt out of school activities," Dr. Chi points out.

To get your child on the right path, start by brushing twice a day, Dr. Chi advises. "Once in the morning after breakfast and once in the evening before bedtime," he says.

Ultimately, getting your kid to brush their teeth regularly doesn't have to be a battle. Try out different hacks until you figure out what's right for your family because as Dr. Chi and other experts have noted, healthy teeth are a key component for your child's physical and emotional well-being.