12 Ways to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

Today, Judy shares 12 tips for encouraging healthy dental habits in kids (perfectly timed for National Children’s Dental Health month!):

Pediatric dentists recommend cleaning your children’s teeth as soon as the first baby teeth emerge. According to the CDC, nearly 20% of children 2 and 5 years old already have at least one untreated cavity. Yikes.

Our 2-year-old protested tooth brushing daily until we took him to a pediatric dentist, who shared some useful tips with us. The following is a list of the best tips that we’ve gathered from veteran moms, pediatric dentists, and our own trial and error:

1. Model healthy habits. Kids love to mimic! Let your children watch you brushing your teeth. Show enthusiasm, model good technique, and tell them what you're doing. They’ll want to do it simply because you’re doing it.

2. Leverage beloved characters. Buying special toothbrushes with beloved characters on them (such as Thomas or Dora) is a great way to get kids excited about brushing.

3. Offer choices. We keep a variety of toothbrushes on hand and let our son choose which one he wants to use each morning and night. It allows him to feel like he has a say in what goes on. Instead of yes/no, the choice is between a standard, electric, or finger brush.

4. Use a reward chart. A reward chart can be a helpful way to provide positive reinforcement and keep kids interested in brushing every morning and night. We’ve found some adorable dental-themed stickers and prizes online.

5. Read tooth books. Reading books about healthy dental habits and brushing can be an effective way to introduce these concepts. We read Dr. Seuss’ The Tooth Book almost every night.

6. Use distraction. Distract your child by counting to 20 while brushing or putting on a short video. (Note: this isn't ideal if, like me, you’re trying to limit screen time, but it works.)

7. Engage in silly talk. My son loves it when we get silly and tell him about all the things we’re cleaning out of his teeth while we’re brushing. List all the items they ate that day (spaghetti and meatballs) and throw in a few silly things (elephant ears!), too, for extra giggles.

8. Start with the front first. Begin with the front teeth and gradually move toward the back. Children often protest brushing their back teeth for fear of gagging or choking. Be especially gentle with the molars and take care not to go too far back. One bad experience can set you back for weeks…trust me!

9. Beware of the biter. If your child, like mine, has a tendency to bite down on the brush, our pediatric dentist recommends gently sticking one (clean) finger in the corner of his mouth to allow better access to all teeth.

10. Help them own it. After I’m confident that I’ve given my son’s teeth a thorough cleanse, I hand the brush over to him and let him have at it. It gives him a feeling of independence and control and an opportunity to practice his technique (and you ultimately want them to learn to do it on their own!). 

11. Switch roles. After I finish brushing his, I often let my toddler “brush” my teeth, too. Prepare yourself for the occasional gum jab. It’ll be worth it when he doesn’t have cavities someday.

12. Rinse it out. If all else fails, teach your child to swish with water* to wash away food particles. It’s better than nothing!

*Editor's Note: Another option is to have the kids swish with children's flouride for some extra cleaning oomph. I use Tom's of Maine anticavity flouride rinse -- both for the girls and also for myself because neon colored flouride seems like a terrible idea to me! I'm also loving these rainbow toothbrushes!

Image credits: all images via Amazon per included links above.