As hard as parents try to set the right examples, teach the right lessons and reinforce the right habits to their children, we all manage to, at some point, mess up along the way.

While some things in life are complicated and offering the proper parenting can be tricky, imparting the right dental habits shouldn’t be. But Dr. Peter Vanstrom – a leading authority in dentistry – says a tradition of bad habits continues to plague unnecessarily many households.

“For example, many people still believe that hard-bristled toothbrushes are the way to go – and that rigorous brushing is a good method for getting the mouth reliably clean, but that’s wrong,” he says. “Today, we’re seeing more and more young people in their 20s and 30s with receding gums and other problems that could be avoided.”

Vanstrom, a dental consultant for CNN medical as well as a member of the editorial board for WebMD, discusses ways for parents to set a good example for their children’s lasting dental health.

• Ditch hard-bristled toothbrushes. Don’t be someone who takes out their aggressions on your teeth while brushing – especially if you’re an older person. Over time, forceful brushing with hard bristles can accelerate gum recession, which may increase sensitivity. The soft-but-firm is the way to go in a toothbrush. That can be accomplished by using a much higher count of soft bristles.

“With this kind of brush, you can actually improve gum health by gently messaging them, which stimulates blood flow to the area,” Vanstrom says. “I’m seeing more patients suffer from gum recession and disease at a younger age, including some in their 30s and 20s. That’s why it’s important to implement good habits when kids are young!”

• Avoid a negative stigma toward oral hygiene. “Another bad legacy parents sometimes impart to their children is to put a stigma on brushing,” he says. “In many homes brushing is considered a chore, probably because parents see it that way.”

An easy way to take the work out of oral hygiene is to have easy-to-use products that feel good. Fun products that are visually stimulating are good for smaller children, who are usually more prone to making a game out of brushing and flossing time. There are other products on the market that make flossing easier. 

• Be mindful of the development of casual bad habits. For many, especially children, it’s easy to develop bad oral habits – thumb-sucking, nail-biting, straw-chewing, ice-crunching and teeth-grinding, to name some. And, because they’re not as strong as adults, children may be prone to using their teeth to open plastic bags and such.

Of course, the habits of our childhood often stay with us in adulthood, so lead first by example, and make sure your child doesn’t pick up these habits on their own or through someone else.

Dr. Peter Vanstrom has achieved the honor of becoming a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry and was inducted as a Fellow in the Pierre Fauchard Academy.