By Alexis Korman
If your kids need some help remembering to brush their teeth, maybe you can find inspiration in the classics.We’re talking real classics — like a Barbie Dentist behind glass and a Hopalong Cassidy cowboy toothbrush.
An exhibit at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore features these and about 50 other “toothy toys” that have helped encourage good dental hygiene and dental-health awareness in kids from the 1940s to today.
The exhibit, Open Wide! Toothy Toys That Made Us Smile, which runs through January, includes specialty toothbrushes such as Westinghouse’s build-your-own rocket electric toothbrush from the 1960s, dental-themed games such as Hungry Hungry Hippos, and even an ’80s video game called Tooth Invaders.
Museum director Jonathan Landers says that the exhibit is meant for kids and adults to enjoy together and that each of the toys is accompanied by information that explains its role, as public-health messages about oral hygiene progressed over time.
“The exhibit is meant to get people into the museum and thinking about oral health. Hopefully, they go through the whole museum and read the posters and documentation that really talk about the importance of oral health,” Landers says. “We want kids to really understand that brushing your teeth, flossing and rinsing is easy and can be fun.”
Joel Berg, pediatric dentist and vice president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, says that teeth-related toys are tools not only for kids, but also for parents looking to introduce their kids to dental hygiene.
“Children don’t have the dexterity to independently brush their teeth until about age 8, but we want parents to help them explore brushing their teeth much younger,” Berg says. “These tools make it fun for children to realize good oral health and allow parents to have a fun device to introduce the child to brushing their teeth.”
Most children do not have the appropriate motor skills to effectively brush their own teeth until they can write in cursive, but parents should begin cleaning the child’s mouth and gums with a soft toothbrush or washcloth after eating before teeth have even erupted, says American Dental Hygienist Association president Caryn Solie.
Solie says some kids will want to brush their teeth alone by age 3 or 5, but parents should still brush their kids’ teeth until they are about 7 or 8 years old.
Mary Hayes, dentist and pediatric dentistry spokeswoman for the American Dentistry Association, says some toothbrushes play music or have a built-in timer that can help kids learn to brush thoroughly.
Using a calendar with stickers to reward kids for brushing their teeth and using positive reinforcement help to make dental hygiene feel like a game instead of a chore, Hayes says.
This story appeared in Saturday’s Edition of USA Today.