Parents, which of these describes you?
A) Brush your teeth or else!
B) Hey kiddo, brush your teeth in five minutes or no TV.
C) You’re still playing a game? OK, but can you please brush your teeth later?
D) What, my kid needs a toothbrush?
These aren’t exactly the phrases that researchers use to differentiate parenting styles by their levels of authority and warmth. But you get the idea. And here’s what’s interesting: parenting style makes a difference in the dental health of children.
Cavities and misbehavior during dental visits were less frequent for children of “authoritative” parents, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatric Dentistry. These are parents who set firm boundaries but treat their children with warmth and compassion.
Cavities were worse for kids of pushover, or “permissive,” parents.
And to some surprise, the authoritarian parents — those who simply laid down the law — also had children with more dental woes. Strict rules would seem to work for something as observable as brushing, so researchers speculated that the harsh parents just didn’t value oral health much.
“Neglectful” parents, those who provide neither warmth nor boundaries, weren’t found for this study. Apparently they don’t volunteer much for pediatric research.
Dr. James Nickman, a St. Paul pediatric dentist who wasn’t involved in the study, said every family is a puzzle. Forming trusting relationships with children of harsh parents can be challenging, but it can also be hard to encourage good habits for children whose parents act like buddies.
“Even in the case of a very permissive parent,” he said, “we really work with them to develop tips and strategies to use at home.”
The key, he said, is getting kids to the dentist for early, preventive care. Nickman’s nightmare is convincing kids of the need for good oral care and regular visits when their first trips to his chair involve pain.
Negotiating with a 3-year-old is something Nickman tries to avoid. “It’s the parents that need to understand why this is important,” he said.