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How parents influence their children’s oral health habits

Did you know that children skip teeth brushing seven times more often when their parents don’t set a good example?

As parents, we know that children often copy what we adults do, and teeth brushing is no exception. Global research has revealed that parents are not being the best possible examples to their children when it comes to oral care.

What the research suggests

The research, conducted by toothpaste brand Mentadent P, showed that while lockdowns prompted people across the world to reprioritise their attitudes and behaviours to health and well-being, this positive shift, unfortunately, did not translate into better oral care, a cornerstone of physical healthcare. In fact, the opposite occurred; some negative habits have crept in, with good, familiar habits – like brushing twice a day – decreasing among parents and their children.

The research highlights that children mirror parents’ behaviours to the detriment of their own health. Children are seven times more likely to skip brushing if their parent does not brush day and night.

Some of the shock results included:

  • Fewer people are brushing twice a day in comparison to two years ago, with a 5% drop in adults and an 11% drop in children.
  • 1 in 4 (26%) children are not brushing their teeth day and night, and 40% of adults have reported going entire days without brushing their teeth.
  • Two in every three respondents said they weren’t worried about their oral health.
  • The research shows that parents’ poor oral habits have an impact on children, with children seven times more likely to skip teeth brushing if their parent does not brush day and night.
  • While nearly three-quarters said they had tooth-related problems during the pandemic, seven of every 10 affected failed to visit the dentist.

Top five oral health complaints

Amongst the respondents who reported experiencing oral health issues since the onset of the pandemic, the top five complaints included:

  • Bleeding gums and teeth during brushing or flossing  (30%)
  • Teeth, gum, or mouth pain (30%)
  • Dry mouth (25%)
  • General bad breath (25%)
  • Trouble eating due to oral pain (21%)

Parents also admitted to being more relaxed with their children’s oral health habits; three in five, or 61%, said they allowed their children to eat sugary foods before going to bed. One in three, or 35%, confessed to rewarding their children with a promise that they wouldn’t have to brush their teeth. Concerns have also been raised over long lockdown periods during which only emergency dentistry was permitted, with less access to regular checkups contributing to poor oral hygiene.

Prominent Dentist Dr. Bongiwe Nhlangulela, better known as Dr. Bee, prioritises the oral health of her young patients and warns parents of the universal truth – that children copy their parents. “We know that COVID-19 has significantly disrupted our world in unprecedented ways, but the basics of dental care still apply, pandemic or not. We have to remember that most things in dentistry are preventable, so it’s critical for every one of us – and parents have a particular responsibility – to drive the educational message around prevention, to see these actions applied in our daily lives,” she says.

Oral health tips

Dr. Bee’s tips for optimal oral health are:

  • Brush your teeth day and night, for about two minutes.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Hold your toothbrush at a slight angle, aim the bristles towards the area where your teeth meet your gums, and brush gently with circular back-and-forth motions. Don’t brush too hard or you could damage your gums.
  • Always rinse your toothbrush with clean water after brushing, then stand it upright to air dry.
  • Keep it separate from the toothbrushes of other family members to prevent contamination.
  • Daily flossing will help you reach the bacteria in those tight spaces between your teeth and under the gum line, adding an extra layer of oral health care.
  • Develop better oral care routines for the family by brushing together, day and night, with your children to help build habits that stick.


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