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Getting Kids to Brush Teeth

Getting kids to brush their teeth twice a day can represent an epic struggle between parents and children. Granted, it can't be pleasant to have someone come at you with a brush on a stick, poke it around in your mouth (hoping they miss the soft and sensitive parts) whilst you choke and gag on toothpaste. But if they'd only cooperate, it would be so much faster and easier for everyone! Here's some ideas for soliciting cooperation at teeth-brushing time.

Create a Tooth-Brushing Game

Making up a game is a great strategy with toddlers. Pretend the toothbrush is a small animal hunting for snacks in the child's mouth. Count the "tooth trolls" you find and wipe away while brushing (then let the child spit them out!). My daughter's favorite is spotting the foods she ate that day in her mouth while brushing (for example, "I see some yogurt back there. I see a little piece of macaroni.")

Invent a Tooth-Brushing Song

Take any kids song and parody it to teach good brushing technique. Come up with a few and rotate them throughout the week to keep it interesting. Here's an example:

(the the tune of "She'll be Comin' Round the Moutain")

We'll be brushing baby's top teeth till they're clean
We'll be brushing baby's top teeth till they're clean
Brush the tops and brush the bottoms
Brush the insides and the outsides
Brush the fronts and brush the backs until they're clean.

Give Choices

Sometimes kids donít need whole song and dance, especially after the toddler years, but simply want some measure of control. If you are still brushing your child's teeth for them, consider giving them a turn, either before or after yours. When you brush, ask them whether they want you to start with top or bottom teeth. Give them a way to let you know if you need to be more gentle (this was a big issue with my first daughter, who would raise her hand if she wanted us to slow down or be more careful).

Talk about Dental Hygiene

It's important to talk about the importance of brushing teeth at times other than the standoff in the bathroom. A child is much less likely to want to hear these messages when they are in "battle mode." Meals offer a great time to talk about how sugar and sweets affect the body, including the teeth (see my article on Teaching Children About Nutrition in related links, below). Add books about dental hygiene to your child's bookshelf. Let your child watch you brush your teeth.

Teeth brushing is obviously an important part of a child's physical care. However, rather than a battle, recasting the battle over brushing teeth as a time to bond and hand over control can turn routine care into special parent-child time. Like anything with young kids, be ready to reinvent the game, or song or whatever approach you choose often, as a breakthrough "solution" is likely to last only a short time. For more on Making Routine Care Count, see my article in related links below.

Some Books on Brushing Teeth and Dental Hygiene:

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