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Sometimes it feels like we spend years teaching our kids’ good oral care habits only to watch them slide in the teen years. Teens can be hard to motivate, and they may rebel against our attempts at encouragement. As parents, we’re no longer standing in the bathroom watching our teens brush as we did when they were little. And if we’re honest, we’re probably in bed before our teens. So making sure the all-important evening brushing and flossing actually happen is easier said than done. But there are some tried and true strategies for getting teens to take care of their teeth:
The Carrot and the Stick – Use the Carrot
While actual carrots are a great snack, think about figurative carrots that will encourage your teen to take good care of their teeth. Teens themselves say incentives are one of the most effective motivational strategies. Consider small rewards for good reports from the dentist. Get a smartphone app to track brushing and flossing, and offer a reward for sticking with a solid routine. Gift cards, outings or a trip to a favorite store can be excellent incentives.
Give Them Choices
Let your teen choose their toothbrush and oral care products (within reason). The “right” oral care tools can make a difference. If that sleek electric toothbrush advertised by their favorite podcaster isn’t out of budget, give it a shot. It may make brushing more manageable and more appealing. If spending a little more on an in-demand whitening toothpaste is an incentive, it may be worth an extra dollar or two.
Emphasize the Positive
When it comes to teens, tapping into their vanity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Teens tend to be preoccupied with their appearance, and being selfie-ready is a big deal. Underscore the connection between consistent dental care and a great smile. Remind them that oral care isn’t just about staying healthy: it also means whiter, cleaner teeth. Taking care of your teeth means looking your best.
Keeping up with oral hygiene is also the best way to keep your breath fresh. As teens become more socially aware, feedback from friends becomes more important. No one wants to be known as the kid with halitosis. Remind teens that consistent oral care means fresh breath.
Remind But Don’t Create A Power Struggle
Friendly reminders are fine but don’t nag. Contrarian tendencies may make teens less likely to do what parents ask when there’s nagging involved. And if they skip a night, no need to lose your cool. Instead, shift the focus to the positive and get back on track.
Explain The Consequences of Neglecting Oral Care
Teens say being confronted with the harsh realities of bad oral hygiene is another effective motivator. Show them pictures or videos of what gum disease and tooth decay and tooth loss actually look like. Explain the downsides of dentures or have them talk with an older relative. Ask your teen’s dentist to reinforce real-life consequences of poor oral hygiene during office visits.
Emphasize and Model Good Habits
Avoid keeping sugary drinks around the house and save them for special occasions. And make sure you’re practicing what you preach. Encourage water consumption: it not only helps with oral care, it’s also excellent for skin and overall health. Underscore the negative consequences of tobacco use for oral health, including unattractive stained teeth. If you’re a tobacco user, talk with your doctor or dentist about quitting to set the best example for your teen.
Set a Good Example
Make sure your teen sees your focus on your own dental care. Brush and floss at home, and make sure you’re scheduling regular checkups for yourself as well as your kids. Be mindful of how you talk about going to the dentist–to your kids, your spouse, and your friends. Teens are observant, so keep your negative associations and anxieties private.
Find a Caring Family Practice
Establishing a relationship with their dentist and dental hygienist can make a significant difference in how kids and teens view dental care. Supportive practitioners can help them build lifelong oral health practices. It’s one of the benefits of a family dentistry practice. At Hall Family Dentistry, building relationships with both parents and kids, from early childhood through young adulthood, is an essential part of what we do. Is it always going to be easy to motivate your teens? Probably not. But with a few solid strategies and a terrific oral care team behind you, you’ve got this.