You, and maybe even your kids, know a well-tended mouth is a must for fresh breath and a bright smile. But sadly, just knowing this isn’t always enough to get your family into the brushing-and-flossing habit.

The fear of cavities won't do the trick, either – because cavities take time to show up, your kids won’t fully understand what caused them. So what does it take to get kids motivated? According to the experts, two of the most important ingredients are parental involvement and – our personal favourite – fun!

Chew on this
There’s no substitute for brushing and flossing, but these foods can help keep mouths healthy.

Raw, hard fruits and veggies
Eating a crisp apple of a crunchy carrot or celery stick after a meal makes your mouth water, which helps clear away debris that can cause decay and gum disease.

Cheese balances your mouth’s pH level, making it less hospitable to decay-causing bacteria, and produces saliva to wash away food particles. The calcium in cheese also helps build enamel on teeth that haven’t grown in yet.

Sugarless gum
Chewing it after a meal increases saliva flow and works to neutralise tooth-decaying acids in plaque.

Success strategies
Here are a bunch of tried and tested bright ideas for maintaining your families’ smiles:

Do it together
Many families find that togetherness promotes better dental hygiene: for example, the White family crowds into their small bathroom, with the kids passing out the brushes – then Dad does a thorough "tooth check" before anyone leaves. "The kids emulate our brushing techniques," notes mum Jennifer. "And because we have to be role models, my husband and I end up doing a better job ourselves!"

Use humour
Leave it to kids to find humor in pretty much anything, including, as it happens, brushing and flossing. When Jennie Morehead’s kids were younger, she created the Gorilla Game, which they still play: "We pretend there are 'tooth gorillas' hiding between their teeth that can be removed only by proper dental care."

Another mum gave her kids' teeth silly names, checking them after they were brushed. "Did you remember Jelly Bean? And I think I can see something sitting between Homer and Pearl."

Make it musical
To make sure their kids are brushing for long enough (ideally, for at least two minutes), many parents use music in one form or another. It's a good idea to have a specific tooth-brushing song (you can make one up if you like), or just tune into your favourite radio station for a song. Kari, a mum of two, says, "It makes the time go faster, and they’re usually humming by the end."

Chart it
When they were little, the Jenkins kids had a sticker added to their prize chart every time they brushed all they way through two rounds of Raffi’s "Brush your Teeth" song. When the chart had enough stickers, they went and did something special together as a family.