Kids begin forming explicit memories around age two. However, until about seven years old, the majority of their memories remain implicit memories. Tooth.
Explicit memories are what we think of when we recall important times, and what we use when we try to intentionally remember something like a phone number or where we parked the car.
Implicit memory, on the other hand, is a type of memory that is unintentional and unconscious. It’s a memory we use to help us recall certain ingrained tasks (like walking or brushing our teeth). Implicit memory is the reason why most people can hop on a bike after years of not riding and still remember how to pedal! Implicit memory also involves feelings, and this is why it exists from utero— we might not be able to form memories until toddlerhood, but we feel from the get-go.
Now, we have to ask…have you ever thought about your earliest memories of your teeth? Thankfully we don’t remember teething as a baby (since we can all imagine how painful that experience was)!
My earliest “tooth” memory was reading a certain Bernstein Bears book on visiting the dentist. In this classic picture book, Sister Bear visits the dentist and discovers her loose tooth. For a child who had never had a loose tooth—and was somewhat nervous about the proposition in the first place—this was my first introduction to what losing a tooth would be like.
I specifically remember how the book highlighted how your gums might bleed after losing a tooth. For a young child who was still a little scared of blood, this was nothing short of terrifying! So, in my young age, I oscillated between being excited about losing my first tooth and being horrified at the potential for blood.
Until I lost my first tooth (which I accidentally swallowed), I was nervous about how it would happen, where I would be, and if it would hurt. Kids shouldn’t worry that much about this! And that’s exactly why it’s important to have conversations with your kids at an early age about their teeth!
As a parent, there are so many things that you “need to talk to your kids about,” and sometimes dental issues get lost in the shuffle. Below are some easy ways to bring up good oral hygiene habits with kids of all ages.
All parents have “been there” when the nightly routine with the kids drags ON, and you just want to get your little one to bed!
While the teeth brushing component is just one aspect of the nightly routine, it’s important to not gloss over it. The phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is closer to the truth than many of us choose to admit. It’s important to begin a comprehensive oral health regimen with your child early so that the habit is engrained before they reach those defiant toddler years. This includes getting you infant used to something being in their mouth.
Did we hear someone ask “how?”
Start by using a wet washcloth to gently wipe off the gums after each nighttime feeding. As your babe starts to grow teeth, transition to a child-sized tooth brush with a rice-grain of toothpaste and brush twice a day. By the time your child is old enough to brush their teeth on their own, they should be in such a set routine that it would be weird not to brush their teeth at night.
Make it less “scary”
There’s a lot about tooth loss and visits to the dentist that can be scary for kids—and adults, for that matter! In fact, a recent poll indicated that one third of all adults admitted to not seeing the dentist in the past year, and over half of them for some level of dental anxiety.
And if you think about it, the thought of losing teeth is also a worrisome to small kids. There are tales of rigid school teachers pulling teeth with floss and doorknobs, or rumors of swallowed teeth and the tooth fairy not coming. To a six-year-old, these tall tales are enough to make the mysterious tooth loss process even more nerve-racking.
When it comes to losing teeth, it’s important to not overload your kid with unnecessary information. When your child asks about losing teeth, always react in a positive way. Tell them that this is something that big boys and girls have to look forward to, and that they’re becoming very grown up themselves when tooth loss starts! When they ask, they’re usually mature enough to have the conversation about losing their teeth.
Another way to ease the fears is to make it fun and magical—and this is the best time to employ the Tooth Fairy. Kids may enjoy the tooth fairy tradition so much that they actually look forward to losing their baby teeth—in fact, knowing that they get a reward for their teeth might make them more willing to help the teeth along by wiggling them or allowing them to be pulled out.
Finally, it’s important to proactively discuss that there may be blood with a loose tooth. Tell your child that they might notice a little bit of blood when the tooth comes out, and that it’s completely normal.
Why is it important to start early?
It’s estimated more than 4 million preschoolers suffer from tooth decay. While it may seem better for children to experience cavities in their baby teeth (since they fall out, as opposed to their permanent teeth), the truth is that you need a healthy mouth to grow healthy adult teeth! This is why it is important to have cavities filled and tooth decay addressed while your child is young. If tooth decay starts to impact the gums, it can easily impact the teeth and bones beneath the surface. In addition, untreated tooth decay can lead to infections that need more medical intervention.
Having these conversations with you kids early on will not only help them develop an early oral health regime but also help ease any anxiety your child may be feeling about losing their teeth.