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How to Explain Oral Hygiene to 3-Year-Olds

author image Lisbeth Booth
As a professional journalist since 1998, Lisbeth Booth has worked as a writer and an editor at several magazines. Her career has focused on music and film criticism but she has also written about lifestyle topics such as parenting and home design. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Calgary.
How to Explain Oral Hygiene to 3-Year-Olds
A mother teaching her daughter how to brush her teeth. Photo Credit: MIXA next/MIXA/Getty Images

Because oral health is so crucial to your health, it's critical that you teach your children how to take care of their teeth at an early age. If you make the process of brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist fun and explain oral hygiene in simple, easy-to-understand terms, the children in your life will have a better chance of growing up with clean and healthy teeth and gums.

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Simplifying the Basics

For your child to understand why she needs to take care of her teeth, she must understand the basics of oral hygiene, tooth decay and gum disease. Because the science behind these concepts is too complicated for 3-year-olds, reduce the concepts to bring them down to a preschool level. Explain that when sugar sticks to teeth, tiny sugar bugs form and eat away at the teeth, leaving small brown holes called cavities. Let the children know that cavities are both unhealthy and painful. This simplified version is enough to get most children interested in taking care of their teeth.

Brush Away the Bugs

Tell your child that the best way to get rid of sugar bugs is to brush them and the excess sugar away. Use models or posters to show him what his teeth look like up close and point to the places where the sugar bugs can hide. Explain that if he brushes his teeth thoroughly on both sides as well as the bottom, the sugar bugs will be swept away. Explain that flossing will get rid of any bugs that find their way in between teeth. Stress that it is important to brush and floss at least twice a day for two minutes each session. Also let him know that that he should take time to brush the insides of his cheeks and his tongue, too.

Stay Away from Sticky Sweets

Food choices affect your child's oral hygiene. Because the sugar bug bacteria like to feed on the sugars found in candy, cookies and soda, remind her that these foods will attract more bugs. Explain that sticky sweets such as caramel and toffee are especially bad for oral health because they are so difficult to clean off of teeth. Teach her about healthy snack choices like vegetables, fruit and whole grain baked goods and encourage her to make choices that will benefit her oral hygiene.

Visiting the Dentist

Your child should view the dentist's office as a friendly place that he feels comfortable visiting. Stress that regular professional cleanings are a normal part of oral hygiene and that the dentist and his helpers help fight tooth decay. Because some children inevitably will need to see the dentist to fill cavities or do other work beyond cleanings, stress that a trip to the dentist does not signify failure. If the dentist is a fun place to go, fear and anxiety over dental work will not follow him into adulthood.

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