For a lot of parents, getting kids to brush their teeth is a struggle. Some kids just don’t like brushing and flossing their teeth. For others, they’re testing their boundaries and brushing teeth just happens to be one of the tasks they’ve chosen to use as a way to assert their independence. As a Tarrytown pediatric dentist, Dr. Reshma Kumar has seen it all and we have to say it’s completely normal. So, don’t panic parents, your child won’t still be screaming about brushing their teeth when you send them off to college. But, we also know that, in this moment, it can be a source of frustration and stress, which is why we’re sharing some creative, fun ways to get kids to brush their teeth. In this post, we’ll talk about:
- The basics of flossing and brushing kids’ teeth
- Some creative ways to get kids to brush their teeth
- What to do if none of these tips are effective and your child still refuses to brush and floss
The Basics of Flossing and Brushing Kids’ Teeth
First things first, before we dive into the ways to get kids to brush their teeth, let’s talk about some of the basics. If you’re wondering, how do I clean my baby’s teeth? You can actually start before they even have teeth by wiping down their gums with a clean washcloth or moistened gauze after feedings.
As for when to start brushing your baby’s teeth, you can begin brushing as soon as the first tooth erupts. Brush your baby’s teeth twice a day with a small, soft-bristled, infant-sized toothbrush and a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste (no larger than a grain of rice). Since you’re only using a tiny bit of toothpaste for babies, they don’t have to spit it out. You can floss once daily wherever any two teeth are touching.
When brushing a toddler’s teeth, stick with the smear of fluoride toothpaste and the soft-bristled toothbrush. You can increase the toothpaste to a pea sized amount for three to six year olds, just be sure they spit it out after brushing. Brush twice daily for two minutes each time and floss once a day.
You’ll need to assist with flossing and brushing kids’ teeth during these earlier years since very young children often don’t have the dexterity to effectively brush and floss on their own. Once they are able to brush on their own, it’s still a good idea to supervise until you feel confident in their skills, which usually happens around age seven or so.
In addition to a dedicated oral hygiene routine, regular visits to a pediatric dentist are also key. It’s recommended children have their first dental visit by age one. During check-ups, Dr. Kumar is able to ensure your child’s teeth and gums are healthy, their development is on track and that they’re doing a great job with brushing and flossing.
Our Favorite Ways to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth
Now that you know how to brush kids’ teeth, what happens if they refuse or every brushing and flossing session turns into a struggle? The key is to make brushing teeth fun for kids! Here are some of our best ways to get kids to brush their teeth so they’ll actually like doing it:
1. Be a Brushing and Flossing Role Model – Show your kids how to brush and floss properly on your own set of pearly whites. Act like you really enjoy oral hygiene and let your children see you brushing and flossing every day. Kids, especially toddlers and preschoolers, want to be just like mom and dad, so if you want them to become a lean, mean, tooth brushing machine, become one yourself!
2. Make it a Family Affair – Speaking of letting kids see you brush and floss your own teeth, why not make it a family affair? It can be boring for little ones to go into the bathroom by themselves and just stare in the mirror as they brush for two minutes. Join in and brush and floss with them when you can. Keep things positive and have a brushing party by playing some music while you brush, singing songs and just having a blast together.
3. Turn Teeth Brushing Into a Game – Make brushing teeth a game. One great idea is to play copycat. Stand next to your child in the mirror and have them copy your brushing technique. Then, every 30 seconds or so, stop and make a funny face in the mirror that they also have to copy. There’s nothing like a little competition to get kids excited and motivated either. If you have more than one child, set a timer for two minutes and challenge them to see who can get their teeth the cleanest. Of course, they can tie in the end.
4. Let Your Child Choose their Toothbrush and Toothpaste – Giving kids choices helps them feel more engaged and independent. Let them choose their toothbrush and toothpaste. Pick out a few fun, kid-friendly options but allow them to have final say. Pro tip: Electric and battery-operated spin toothbrushes can be super fun for kiddos and there are child-sized ones that are decorated with a variety of popular characters.
5. Play Two-Minute Songs for Brushing Teeth – Music makes everything better. While there are songs for brushing your teeth that are crafted for that purpose, there are also a lot of regular songs that just happen to be two minutes long, which is the recommended duration for brushing sessions. Here are a few of our favorite two-minute songs for brushing your teeth:
6. Use a Brush Timer for Kids – A brush timer for kids helps them get a better concept of what two minutes of brushing their teeth really feels like and it’s fun for them to brush until the timer dings. You can set up an actual brush timer for kids that they can turn on themselves when they start. Or, you can try a tooth brushing timer app like Brush DJ, which plays two minutes of music from your device or whatever streaming service you use. Some electric toothbrushes even have a brush timer for kids built in to make things really easy.
7. Embrace Oral Hygiene Sticker Charts – You’d be hard-pressed to find a child who doesn’t love sticker charts. They’re an amazing visual way for kids to track their brushing and flossing and they involve positive reinforcement. For some little ones, placing a sticker on their chart every time they successfully brush and floss is positive reinforcement enough. You can also take it further by giving kids a prize when they accumulate a predetermined number of stickers. The prize could be something like choosing the movie for family movie night. Here is as a free, printable teeth brushing chart for kids that’s cute and simple for them to follow along with.
8. Read About Oral Hygiene or Watch Videos – When kids learn about why it’s important to brush their teeth, it can help motivate them to do it. Think about it, as an adult, you probably don’t truly love to brush and floss but you do it because you know why it’s important. In addition to talking to kids about the importance of keeping their smile healthy, you can also read books about oral hygiene. The Tooth Book by Edward Miller is an excellent one. There are plenty of teeth brushing videos for kids as well. Books and videos can make learning about oral health more engaging.
What if My Child Refuses to Brush Their Teeth No Matter What I Try?
When brushing kids’ teeth is a struggle and nothing seems to work, it’s time to talk to your pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists are specialists who are trained in treating children and teens, including those with special needs. Dr. Kumar can chat with you about what’s going on and offer personalized tips and strategies for getting your child to brush and floss. She’s also well versed in child development, psychology and behavior. She can get on your child’s level and use terms they can understand to explain the importance of oral hygiene. Sometimes, hearing it from an adult who isn’t a parent can be helpful.
Hopefully our ideas for ways to get kids to brush their teeth will help make your child’s oral hygiene routine run a little more smoothly. If your child still refuses to brush their teeth, or if you’re just looking for a friendly, fun dentist for kids in Tarrytown, schedule a visit at 914 Smiles with Dr. Reshma Kumar today!