Teaching Dental Hygiene to Preschoolers: 8 Fun Activities

By Ashley Ess in Healthy Feeling

Introducing children to an oral care routine early on is a key factor in establishing healthy, lifelong habits. When you lead by example, you set your children up for success as they grow. Teaching dental hygiene to preschoolers and toddlers doesn't have to be a chore for you or your child. Try these eight activities to help create good oral care habits and make learning about dental health fun.

Setting Your Child Up for Success

When discovering how to make brushing teeth fun for toddlers and preschoolers, keep in mind that you play an important role. You'll need to brush your child's teeth for them until they're old enough to do it on their own. Children develop at different paces. According to Port Pediatric Dentistry, some children are ready to start brushing their own teeth as early as age three, while others might not be ready until age six. Make sure to supervise your child closely when they're first getting started. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking them to the dentist by age one. It's important that they get comfortable with the staff and instruments and experience the fun of riding in the dentist chair. Setting up positive associations with the dentist will come in handy as more teeth come in and visits become more frequent.

Small child brushing teeth in bathroom with her mother's help

1. Edible Smiles

To teach the importance of eating healthy foods for dental health, select cuts of fresh fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of shapes and colors. Have your child arrange them on a plate to make funny smiling faces. Let them eat one item from each face they create and then make a new face with what's left. Continue rearranging the faces with the remaining pieces and see how creative they can get. You can even add healthy dips such as yogurt or hummus to add color and detail to your edible art project.

2. Musical Brushing

What could be better than teaching dental hygiene to preschoolers with their very own brushing soundtrack? Make a playlist of your child's favorite songs and reveal your exciting selections one brushing session at a time. Since brushing should take approximately two minutes, aim for songs that reflect this length. You can even divide the song up so that a certain lyric or verse serves as a cue that it's time to start on a new quadrant of the mouth. Explain to your child that you're focusing on different sections of their teeth with equal attention as you help them brush along to the music.

3. Painting Teeth Clean

With this fun craft, you can show how brushing helps prevent yellow teeth—a sign of an unhealthy oral care routine. Draw a large toothless mouth on a piece of white paper. Then, draw tooth shapes on yellow paper and cut them out. Arrange and paste the yellow "teeth" in the mouth. Have your child lightly dip an old toothbrush with white water-based paint and "brush" the yellow teeth with the paint to turn them white. Explain how the yellow represents plaque and bacteria and how brushing helps to clean these off of your teeth. You can also use white crayons or chalk to color away the yellow instead of paint.

4. Healthy Teeth Collage

Teach your child the healthiest foods for a healthy mouth with this collage. With your child's input, cut out pictures of foods that promote good dental health from magazines or print some from the internet. Then, find pictures of healthy, teeth-filled smiles and cut them out, too. Invite your child to arrange and paste the pictures you selected together on a small poster board. Hang your collage in the kitchen to inspire and remind them to keep eating healthy for healthy teeth. As an alternative, using a large piece of paper, you can create a healthy food column represented by a white tooth and an unhealthy food column represented by a yellow tooth. Help your child find, sort, and match the food pictures into the two columns.

5. Toothbrush Shopping Spree

Empower your child with choice. Take them to the store to choose their own toothpaste, toothbrush, and dental floss from the available selection of children's products. Show them the different colors, styles, and flavors they can select from. This adds a little flair to a child's dental care routine and can help to instill a sense of agency when they head to the sink with you to take care of their oral health.

Mother holding toothbrush as she shows her toddler how to brush

6. Apple Experiment

This activity will introduce the concept of cavities to your child. Ask your child to pretend an apple is a tooth. Let them poke a hole in the apple with a skewer or small stick to represent a cavity. Leave the apple somewhere off to the side for two to three days, and then revisit it with your child. Encourage them to examine the hole. Explain that the discoloration and brown spots have made the apple go bad, and that brushing and flossing can prevent holes like this in our teeth.

7. Egg Carton Teeth

This is a fun activity for older toddlers and preschoolers that teaches how food and bacteria can get stuck between teeth. Turn an egg carton upside down, with each inverted compartment representing a tooth. Mold some play clay in between the "teeth" and have your child "floss" between each space with string. The goal is to clean out the play clay with the "floss" until all the clay is gone from between the teeth.

8. Play Dentist

This is another fun option for older toddlers and preschoolers to learn about dental hygiene from a different perspective. Pretend to lie down in the dentist chair as a patient and have your child play the role of the dentist. Provide a small flashlight and dental mirror so that they can gently inspect the health of your mouth. Have them tell you what they observe and give advice on what to do to continue to keep your mouth healthy.

Using games, crafts, and imagination to get your child excited about dental health can go a long way toward building healthy habits. Want to learn more about promoting a healthy mouth from an early age? Check out this article on infant oral care. (Yes—proper care begins before they cut their first tooth!)

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Why It's Good

Establishing a good oral care routine when children are in their toddler years can instill lifelong healthy dental hygiene habits.