How to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

Dr. Mesa Roth

Did you know that about 20 percent of children between five and 11 years old suffer from tooth decay? Most parents understand that instilling good brushing habits in young children is important for lifelong oral health, but don’t know how to get kids to brush their teeth.

Many young children don’t like brushing their teeth when they’re introduced to it. While this can lead to skirmishes every morning and bedtime, it doesn’t have to. Rather than struggle with your child, adopt strategies that encourage him to brush.

Start by letting your child choose her own toothbrush and toothpaste. This gives them control over the process, and can also make brushing fun. It’s always more fun to brush with a toothbrush decorated with a favorite character or toothpaste with a preferred flavor. Make sure products bear the ADA seal to ensure they meet standards, but other than that, put your kid in the driver’s seat.

An ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste is important, but don’t insist on it if your child doesn’t like it. Toothpaste can make kids gag or want to spit, which makes brushing unpleasant. If your child brushes better with just water, let him! It’s better to instill the habit and move on to including toothpaste later!

Make a game out of it! When my daughter is brushing, we like to pretend that she’s a puppy. We’ll start by having her “obey” commands, laying down, rolling over and shaking my hand. Then I help the puppy brush her teeth.

As with most activities with children, setting a routine will make getting kids to brush their teeth easier. Work brushing into the morning and bedtime routine, and place it in the same order: Brush teeth in the morning between getting dressed and eating breakfast, and at night after changing into pajamas and hearing a bedtime story. Brush before stories, not after so kids aren’t tired out.

Make part of your routine reinforcing the importance of brushing for at least two minutes. Don’t rely on a timer, though! Most songs are at least two minutes long, so let your child choose her favorite song to accompany brushing time, and encourage them to brush for the duration of the song. I like to play “Name that Tune” with my Toddler: I’ll hum a song such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and she’ll guess it.

Rewards are always a great tool for encouraging positive behavior, and brushing teeth is no exception. Make a reward that suits your child’s likes – some children love stickers, while others will make time to brush if they get an extra bedtime story.

With younger children, it works best to allow kids to brush first, then have mom or dad help to make sure teeth are getting a thorough brushing. My little one loves to lay down as I sit on the floor, and lean her head back into my lap as I take my turn brushing her teeth.

Finding ways to get kids to brush their teeth doesn’t have to be a battle! Start inspiring positive habits when your child is young for a lifetime of positive oral health.

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