5 Ways to Make Sure Your Children Actually Brush Their Teeth

Rare (and lucky) is the parent who has never faced a child’s meltdown over the topic of brushing their teeth. While it can be easy to get frustrated in these moments, forcing tooth brushing on a child can backfire: Not only will it make them less willing to brush their teeth on a regular basis, but it may also contribute to dental phobias later in life.

Thus, it’s important to utilize positive, sustainable strategies that will engage your child in oral health care over the long haul. If you’re at your wit’s end, turn to these five strategies to ensure your child actually brushes their teeth.

Help them understand why tooth brushing is important.

As children reach toddler age and beyond, they don’t always respond well to being told to do something just because their parents said so. They need a reason to engage in  whatever action you’re asking of them—so give them one. In kid-friendly terms, explain why brushing their teeth every day is so important. The more they’re able to understand, the more they’re likely to willingly engage in the process. Some children’s books and TV shows speak to the importance of tooth brushing, so consider delivering this message yourself and from your child’s beloved characters in order to increase the chances that it sticks.

Be a good role model.

One of the primary ways children learn is by mimicking the behaviors they observe in the people around them. So it’s critical to model good habits when it comes to oral health. Brush and floss your own teeth every day in front of your child so as to normalize these behaviors. You can even make tooth brushing a family affair by inviting everyone in the family to brush their teeth at the same time. Ham up how much fun you’re having so kids are motivated to get in on the action.

Make it fun.

Speaking of fun: Making toothbrushing an exciting activity (instead of a mundane one) is a proven way to make children more amenable to maintaining their oral health. To that end, consider trying one or several of the following strategies:

  • Take your child to the store and let them pick out a fun toothbrush and toothpaste that they’re excited to use
  • Cue up one of your child’s favorite songs and crank it loud while you brush your teeth together—you can even shimmy around a little and refer to it as your “tooth brushing party”
  • Bring along one of your child’s favorite toys (a stuffed animal or doll works well) and encourage them to brush the toy’s “teeth” before brushing their own
  • Challenge your child to a game: See who can brush their teeth “the best,” who can blow the most foam bubbles, or who can make the funniest faces in the mirror while you brush 

Stick to a routine.

If you give children an inch, they’re likely to take a mile—which is why it’s so important to maintain a regular tooth brushing routine. If you let them skip tooth brushing one night, they’re likely to push for skipping it again (and again, and again). To avoid this, aim to have your child brush their teeth at the same times every day so it becomes a natural part of their daily life. 

Dole out rewards.

Create a chart and use fun stickers or markers to note each successful tooth brushing. This chart alone might give children the satisfaction they need to brush regularly. Or you could link the chart to rewards—for example, a few weeks of brushing twice a day could earn your child a new toy. Regardless of whether you use material rewards, make sure to praise your child every time they successfully brush their teeth. Positive feedback is one of the biggest motivators around.

Consistency, positive role modeling, and a big dose of fun will help ensure that your child stays committed to a tooth brushing routine—and decreases the chances that you’ll have to cope with temper tantrums in the process.