Getting your kids to brush their teeth is all about what we teach them and the example we set. Children model our behavior. When I am talking to moms about the challenges that they face getting their kid to brush their teeth, I hear….
“I don’t have time!”
“It’s a fight, and I don’t have the energy!”
“My kid is stubborn and just won’t brush!”
“The baby teeth are just going to fall out anyway, what’s the big deal!”
There could be other reasons your child doesn’t want to brush. Maybe it’s a control issue. Perhaps they are just overtired, or simply not in a good mood. Creating a routine that will give the child the illusion of control is also a simple answer. I will share tips and tricks to do just that.
Another challenge is that they may not be able to communicate what is bothering them. One of the biggest challenges for you is to identify and acknowledge their resistance and create a solution that becomes part of the tooth brushing routine. It may take some time, but you will figure it out. Follow my blogs, YouTube videos, and join the Healthy Mouth Movement Facebook Group, and together we will figure out what works what does not!
Prepare your child for touch. Begin early. When your child is a newborn is a good time to begin — using a small, soft and wet cloth to gently wipe the gums of your child to remove the film left by breastmilk and or formula. This simple step serves several purposes. It cleans their gums and removes bacteria; it gets them used to having their gums touched, and it creates a routine that becomes part of their mouth habits. If you identify sensory issues, let them suck on the wet washcloth, or provide a teether or vibrating toothbrush.
Talk to them.
Set them up to succeed. As they grow, create an environment that will make your child want to brush their teeth. Provide a stool so they can easily reach the sink, turn on the water, and see in the mirror. The mirror is a great way to engage a child. Ask her/him to make funny faces. Showing them, their beautiful smile encourages your child that this is a fun activity.
I don’t want to brush my teeth in the bathroom. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to brush our teeth in the bathroom. If your child is fighting you, and wants to brush somewhere else, make it a game to search for a new area to brush. Moving to an area where they feel more comfortable gives them some control over what is happening. Once you have established a routine, gently direct your child back into the bathroom.
Other locations might be:
- The bathtub
- In front of the TV with their favorite movie or tooth brushing video
- Sitting at the table
- Sitting in a favorite chair
Give your child choices. Let your child choose their toothbrush. You can make it a family shopping trip to choose a toothbrush and toothpaste. Strawberry, grape, or mint, a tube with their favorite character; there’s a lot to choose. Your child might like a character toothbrush or one with a specially shaped handle. Your child might even want an electric toothbrush. This is what worked for me. I switched my daughter from a standard toothbrush to an electric one that played music, and she begged me to let her brush her teeth. The adults in our house use an electric toothbrush, so it made her feel more grown-up and part of the toothbrushing team.
There are many types of toothbrushes and kinds of toothpaste; you may have to go through a few to make your child excited to use their new brush. If going on a shopping trip is not an option, you can order the toothbrushes online.
Sensory Issues. Children with sensory issues may be sensitive to movement, have aversions with anything to do with their mouth, and/or sensitivity to pain. If there is a sensory issue with your child, there are many tips you can use to ease their resistance to brushing. Their age and developmental level will be your guide in selecting tools and strategies that will work. The size of the toothbrush, soft or firm bristles, the shape of the handle all matter to a child with sensory issues. Touch, sound, vibration, and movement all play a key role in helping your child participate in a tooth brushing routine.
If your child doesn’t like the feel or taste of toothpaste, there is no rule that you have to use toothpaste. My daughter didn’t like toothpaste, and we tried many different kinds and flavors. I am a dental hygienist, and it took me a bit to realize that the answer was simple; don’t use toothpaste, problem solved.
I want you to know that it didn’t seem simple at the time. I was so frustrated that we couldn’t find a solution and felt like a failure not only as a Mom but also as a dental professional. That was a light bulb moment for me as a mom…when I realized that you do what works for your child, not what everyone says you have to do. So, as a dental professional, I will give you permission to do what you need to do to put your child first as you teach and help them develop a good oral health routine. Use the tools and guidelines I am giving you, but adapt them to your child’s needs.
Make it FAMILY TIME. Involving the whole family in the tooth brushing process helps the child to know that it is an important part of their daily routine. It’s so important that everyone is doing it at the same time. There may be reasons why you can’t do it every time, i.e., work schedules, etc., and that is understandable. Whenever possible, make it family time.
Make it fun and engaging. Children love games and participation, especially family participation.
Making it a family fun time will only take a few minutes; it’s a connection you won’t regret. The attention span of children is usually one minute. So if you have a two-year-old, their attention span will be shorter. Distractions are another key to a successful brushing routine.
Some examples might be:
- Remember the airplane game when your mom was feeding you? That spoon was zooming in and out. Use the toothbrush in the same manner.
- Set the timer and see who brushes the full two minutes without stopping!
- Make it a challenge, the first on to call “It’s toothbrushing time” is the winner
- Play their favorite song and dance along while you brush.
- Stand on one foot for one minute and switch for another minute…2 minutes of brushing.
- Make up your own silly toothbrushing song.
- Make funny noises as they brush.
- Facetime another person and engage them in the toothbrushing process.
- Let them hold their favorite stuffed animal.
- Show them how to brush their teeth and let them brush your teeth.
Motivation and Rewards. Occasionally we all need to be motivated, and we appreciate rewards. This holds true for children too. Incentives and rewards are not necessary, but they can be an option. It could be as simple as a sticker chart with goals. They receive a sticker for each achievement and a larger reward when the goals are completed. A family dinner, a movie, or for an older child something they have been wanting.
For an oral health routine to be successful, it needs to be part of your everyday routine.
The great part of this story is that good brushing habits are part of the solution to decreasing cavities. It’s just that simple. Together we are part of a Healthy Mouth Movement, and all it takes is brushing for 2 minutes, twice a day.
So to recap……
- Prepare your child at an early age by wiping their teeth with a soft, warm, wet washcloth.
- Set them up to succeed, provide the environment support and tools they need.
- If your child doesn’t want to brush in the bathroom, allow them to choose a more comfortable place.
- Provide your child with choices, allow them to choose their toothbrush and toothpaste.
- If your child has sensory issues, they are many tools to help you create an oral health routine.
- Make it family time by including the entire family in the daily tooth brushing routine.
- Make it fun and engaging. Children always respond better to fun and games.
- Motivation and Rewards. Offering motivation and rewards is not necessary, but it may help. Do what is in line with your family values and beliefs.
Join me, and let’s make Toothbrushing fun family time creating memories!