6 Sure-Fire Ways to Get a Child to Brush

A toddler with pigtails brushing her teeth and smiling.
As an adult, you brush and floss your teeth regularly because you know it’s essential for healthy gums and teeth. But what about your kids?

Every parent knows how difficult it can be to get your kids to brush their teeth unless you are always at them about it. We understand. The struggle is real!

So, what’s a parent to do?

No worries. At Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontic Specialists, we have your back! Here are six sure-fire ways to get your children to brush their teeth.

1. Establish good brushing habits early

Tooth decay is now the most common chronic early childhood disease in the United States, and the American Dental Association says it poses a significant public health problem.

Protecting your children’s teeth from the bacterial build-up that causes tooth decay is vital!

But what about their baby teeth? Since they’re going to lose them anyway, is it important they regularly brush these tiny teeth to ward off decay?

Yes, it is!

Decayed baby teeth can lead to problems that will affect them as they grow up, such as:

  • Damage to permanent teeth – Baby teeth are placeholders for adult teeth. If your children lose them because of tooth decay, permanent teeth may not have the proper room they need to grow.
  • Vulnerability to gum disease – The bacteria that causes cavities doesn’t just affect the teeth, it also affects the health of the gums.
  • Poor speech articulation – Baby teeth help your child learn how to speak and enunciate clearly.
  • Teasing by others kids – Unsightly teeth because of decay can make your child a target for bullies and affect their self-esteem.

Even before their teeth begin to appear, you can protect your baby’s oral health by gently wiping gums after feedings and before bed with a clean, warm cloth.

When should you begin brushing your child’s teeth?

As soon as teeth emerge! The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends using a toothbrush designed especially for infants that have very soft bristles and brushing twice a day with just a tiny “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste.

Dangers of tooth decay to young children

2. Set a good example

Kids learn by example. They will imitate you whether you want them to or not.

Teach your little one how to brush his or her teeth by watching you. Make it a part of your daily routine to do it together!

How do you teach children to brush their teeth?

Here are some tips from our dentists to make sure you both do it correctly:

  • Start by holding the brush at a 45-degree angle
  • Gently brush the teeth with short circular motions, cleaning the outside, inside, and chewing surfaces
  • Remember to brush your tongue too

Let’s face it: Your child is not going to do a very thorough job at first. So, you may want to start by going through the steps to brushing your kids’ teeth with them before bedtime and letting them do it by themselves in the mornings.

Mom helping her young son and daughter to brush their teeth.

3. Get your kids involved

On your next shopping trip, let your children pick out their toothbrush and toothpaste.

There is a lot of great tasting toothpaste on the market (bubblegum is a big kid’s favorite), which is excellent for getting your kids to use them. However, the downside is it might tempt them to enjoy too much of a good thing!  Make sure your 3 to 6-year-old is only using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste when they brush.

Make dental hygiene just as fun as bath time!

If your children are old enough, they can try using an electric toothbrush for even more efficient cleaning. Some electric toothbrushes have timers on them, making it easier to ensure your kids are brushing their teeth long enough.

4. Use a schedule and rewards

Consistency is key. Help your children establish a good daily oral health routine by downloading our free printable weekly brushing chart and having them check off each day they brush. Reward them with one of their favorite treats at the end of the week.

Soon your children will remind YOU when it’s time to brush!

Brushing chart and coloring page free download from a kids dentist

5. Tell them they’re doing a great job!

Generously praise your precious son or daughter for keeping to their schedule. Everyone likes a pat on the back for a job well done!

Constantly reinforce that strong, healthy teeth are important for beautiful smiles and powerful chompers!

Resist the tendency to use fear about the consequences to kids who don’t brush their teeth to motivate them. You don’t want your children to be afraid of the dentist or the pain associated with cavities, or to worry about their teeth falling out if they do not brush them.

Tip: Encourage your child to bring their completed brushing chart on their next visit to our pediatric dentists and orthodontists in San Diego. We will shower them with positive comments and may even have a special surprise waiting.

6. Entertain and amuse

Just like listening to music in the gym makes the time fly, find some fun videos for your kiddos to watch while they brush.

Brushing should last at least two minutes, so find some perfectly timed pieces that they need to finish watching. Try this kids’ brushing teeth video out:

One word of warning: Your child may get so caught up singing our kids’ brushing teeth song that they forget to keep brushing! You know them best; perhaps a countdown timer would work better for your little ones.

Brushing tips for kids with braces

Many kids have orthodontic treatment with braces that make brushing difficult.

Here are some brushing tips to make the job easier:

  • Before brushing, rinse the braces with water
  • Start by brushing at the gumline at a 45-degree angle
  • Place the toothbrush on top of the brackets, angling down to brush on top of each bracket
  • Reposition the toothbrush to brush the bottom of the bracket and the wire, angling the toothbrush up
  • Make sure your kids take their time and are thorough

Depending on their age, your children might need some helpful supervision at first to make sure they are doing it right. Once they get the hang of it, they can do it on their own.

Can we help?

Being a parent isn’t easy. Raising kids, you only get one chance to get it right. (No pressure!)

Getting advice from others on solutions that really work can be a big help. We hope these suggestions will help you get your little ones started on a lifetime of good brushing habits.

If you have other questions about your child’s oral care that we can answer, just ask!

You can contact our pediatric dentist in San Diego or call us at 858-676-5000, and we will be happy to give you any help we can.

How do you get your child to brush? Share your tip in the comments below. We’d love to hear it!


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2016 and has been rewritten for comprehensiveness and timeliness.

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