Getting kids, especially young children, interested in their oral health can seem like a difficult challenge for many parents. For many kids, having to brush and floss at night before bed comes as just another an unwanted distraction that keeps them from playing just a little bit longer, and signifies the end of the day is near.

While kids may not appreciate the long-term benefits of good oral health when young, they’ll certainly come to appreciate what healthy teeth and gums means when they get older. One way parents can help teach their kids about the importance of quality oral health is through the use of instructional games that help to illustrate why they need to brush and floss every day.

Fun with Flossing

What you need: A rubber glove, a jar of peanut butter and something to spread it with, dental floss, a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste.

What to do: Place the glove on the appropriate hand and then position your hand with fingers straight up. Your hand should look like you’re giving the stop sign or extending it out to receive a high-five.

Spread your fingers apart and then spread peanut butter between your fingers, making sure to get the peanut butter deep into the crevices between each finger. Once the peanut butter is in place, tighten your fingers back together into the same position they were in before.

What’s the goal: In this game, your fingers represent teeth and the peanut butter acts as the food that gets trapped between them when you eat.

Have your child put toothpaste onto the toothbrush. With your fingers held closely together, have him try to remove the peanut butter from between your fingers by brushing. Remember to keep your fingers closely together when your child is brushing.

Once most of the peanut butter has been removed from the surface of your fingers, have your child stop brushing and show him all of the peanut butter that still remains between your fingers.

Now provide him with a piece of dental floss and ask that he remove the rest of the peanut butter from between your fingers. Once done, ask your child which did a better job of cleaning the food off of the “teeth?” Hopefully your child will realize that a toothbrush cannot reach all the places between teeth that dental floss can.

Now that you have his attention, begin discussing what can happen to his oral health if food is allowed to linger between his teeth after a meal. A child might not understand what gingivitis and tooth decay means depending on his or her age, but general terms such as cavities and tooth pain will help to illustrate the point.

Also take the opportunity to point out the correct way for your child to floss. Instruct him to curve the floss around each finger in a C-shape and to move the floss in a back-and-forth motion to remove as much food as possible. That night before flossing, go back over with your child what he learned earlier just to reinforce the information.