3 Clever Ways to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

One of the most frustrating parenting moments is when your children absolutely refuse to brush their teeth. They don’t seem to care if their teeth fall out of their heads—that just means they can eat soft foods like ice cream 24/7 or get dentures like grandma. Not to mention:

Brushing teeth takes too long.

Brushing teeth means it’s bedtime.

Toothpaste tastes yucky.

It makes juice taste funny.

I brushed my teeth yesterday.

And the complaints go on and on. Children have very little concept of logic, especially when it comes to their health.

Some parents are laidback in the teeth-brushing department. “Oh,” they say, “baby teeth aren’t important. They’re just going to fall out, anyway.”

Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. According to a New York Times article, baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth. By not impressing the importance of oral care on young children, you only set them up for a lifetime of bad dental hygiene. More importantly, bacteria from infections or cavities in baby teeth can remain in the mouth after these fall out, heightening the chance that permanent teeth will be rotted as well.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers tips to parents of young children on dental care. They advocate drinking water and using toothpastes containing fluoride, which helps to prevent decay. Parents should brush their children’s teeth until they have the dexterity to do it themselves, and then parents should supervise them to make sure they spit instead of swallow.

But the problem is still here: children don’t want to brush their teeth!

A Few Solutions…

Reward System

My mother has a habit of saying, “I’m not going to reward you for something you should be doing in the first place!” Now, as an adult, I can understand that.

But think back to when you were a child, and how being praised for doing something correctly, especially when no one asked you to, made you feel good and special. If you’ve ever taken a psychology class, you know that positive reinforcement—rewarding a specific behavior—is a powerful tool.

The reward could be practically anything: money, an extra thirty minutes to stay up, a treat at the end of the week, or even just good old-fashioned praise. There’s no need to go above and beyond. The point is you want children to associate a good behavior (in this case, brushing their teeth) with a positive reaction (the reward).

It may take some cajoling at first. “If you brush your teeth, I’ll give you something good!” Once they begin to understand that brushing their teeth equals receiving something good, they will begin to regularly brush their teeth—which is, ideally, twice a day—in anticipation of their reward.

Make it a Game!

The reward system does, admittedly, have its flaw: if the child actually comes through, the rewards begin to add up—particularly in the money department.

Another way to encourage children to brush their teeth is to make it a game. Parents can play these games as well, and it makes for a great bonding experience.

Have a contest! Whoever can brush their teeth the longest without spitting (or swallowing!) wins. Or, whoever’s breath smells the freshest after brushing wins. Or, whoever can stand on one foot and brush the longest wins. Who can brush their teeth and pat their head at the same time? Have a tooth-brushing staring contest. A tooth-brushing singing contest. A tooth-brushing breath-holding contest.

There are many different games, and this list is by no means exhausted.

You could find one that works best, or change it up every night!

The “Fun” Toothbrush

Of course, as an adult who doesn’t generally go to bed at the same time as children, perhaps you’re not ready to brush your teeth for the night. Maybe you need a glass of wine. In that case, you might invest in a “fun” toothbrush designed specifically for kids.

For example, a character toothbrush, such as these superhero ones. Or a talking one, like this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toothbrush. There are even musical toothbrushes. You could also find waterproof toothbrushes and rechargeable electric toothbrushes.

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