When it comes time to start brushing, kids tend to put up some resistance. They might not like the feeling of the brush or the taste of the toothpaste, and they might not understand how the process works. And even when they’re ready to try, manipulating the brush can be difficult and frustrating for them. As a parent, you want to ensure that your child maintains good oral hygiene—so how do you negotiate the nightly routine?
1. Begin Early
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that parents begin cleaning their children’s gums soon after they are born, ideally with a clean cloth or infant toothbrush and water. Once their first teeth appear, you can start using toothpaste. By starting early, you ensure that your children are already used to the feeling of being brushed, which should make the process feel less foreign by the time they begin brushing on their own.
2. Show them How
Brushing takes some practice. When the time comes to start on their own, you’ll want to demonstrate first. Most kids won’t be ready to brush their own teeth until about 6 or 7 years old, and they will likely struggle at the beginning. To make the process less daunting, you can start by brushing your own teeth next to them at the sink, demonstrating how you hold the brush and encouraging them to try when they’re ready. Kids like imitating their parents, so leading by example is a great way to encourage them to try brushing on their own.
3. Choose the Right Toothbrush & Toothpaste
A child is more likely to view brushing positively if she likes her toothbrush. Kids tend to like toothbrushes that are fun, colorful and themed with their favorite characters. Some toothbrushes even feature lights that flash for one minute, which is the recommended time period for brushing. And choosing the right toothpaste is essential; look for ADA–approved toothpastes that are flavored, and ask your child which flavors they like best.
4. Create a Routine
Kids tend to feel less anxious when they know what to expect. Try incorporating brushing into a routine and stick to the same order. For example, you can try a nightly bath, followed by changing into PJs, and brushing before bed. That way, brushing is never a surprise.
5. Make Brushing Fun!
There are plenty of ways to make brushing more exciting for kids:
- Try singing or telling a story while your child brushes.
- Bring their favorite stuffed animal along to “brush” with them.
- Turn brushing into a game. Brush alongside them and challenge them to a “brush–off.”
- Keep a chart on the mirror and add a sticker for every night they brush. Congratulate them with something special at the end of the week or month.
- Make bubbles in the sink.
- Try educational tools and videos, like “The Adventures of Timmy the Tooth.”
And don’t forget to make trips to the dentist fun, too! Try combining these visits with something your child might enjoy, like going to a movie. When kids associate oral hygiene with positive experiences, they are more likely to brush—and keep brushing—their teeth.