Tips to get kids to brush their teeth
"Have you brushed your teeth?" may seem like an innocent question,
but many parents know it can incite complaining, whining or bedtime battles
with kids who don't like, or simply can't be bothered, to brush
their teeth. It's not uncommon--according to a 2014 survey by the
Ad Council, 75 percent of parents said their children didn't brush
their teeth on a regular basis. That may be one reason why about one in
five American kids ages 5 to 11 has at least one decaying tooth, reports
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that's a health
issue that has greater implications beyond cavities, says
Maryam Mohsenzadeh, DDS, dental director of the Children’s Mobile Dental Clinic at
Queen of the Valley Medical Center.
"Improper brushing and flossing means your child doesn't get rid
of the bacteria in the mouth that can lead to tooth and gum disease,"
Dr. Mohsenzadeh says. "But that bacteria can also cause inflammation
elsewhere in the body, which may lead to other issues such as cardiovascular
disease and increase risk of respiratory infection. So, parents should
teach children that brushing their teeth regularly is necessary, as it
is an important part of lifelong wellness."
Sometimes, though, that's easier said than done. Dr. Mohsenzadeh offers
some strategies to get kids brushing the recommended 2 minutes twice a day.
Let kids make some choices. Regular brushing is non-negotiable, but there are some things you can
do to let your child have ownership over the task. "Let him pick
out the toothpaste flavor--maybe he wants to try a fruity variety instead
of the usual mint--or select a fun toothbrush," Dr. Mohsenzadeh says.
"He may be more eager to brush his teeth with tools he picked out
Try a little togetherness. You can be a good role model for your child by brushing your teeth at
the same time he does. "It also affords you the opportunity to watch
your child's technique to make sure he's brushing properly--some
medical professionals advise supervising your child until they're
8 or 9 years old," Dr. Mohsenzadeh says. "Plus, it's a nice
way to get in a little bonding time at the beginning or end of the day."
Make it a party. Create a fun atmosphere to make tooth brushing less of a chore for kids.
"Play some music for a little dance party," Dr. Mohsenzadeh
says. "There are brushes out there that play music for two minutes,
which helps children make sure they're spending enough time brushing
their teeth. Some brushes also have flashing lights, which can be good
for younger kids.
Reinforce--and reward--good habits. You've encouraged your child to brush every day and explained what
can happen to his mouth if he doesn't, and you're still meeting
resistance? It may be worth drawing up a reward chart. "Keep track
of every time he brushes and if he gets a certain number of check marks
on the chart or brushes daily for a certain period of time, offer a reward,
such as staying up a little later one night or a small toy," Dr.
Mohsenzadeh says. "Try not to use a sugary treat as a reward, since
those aren't good for the teeth. And words of encouragement for a
job well done can help, too."
“What I usually suggest is to try to have your kids brush before
they are too tired and sleepy, and then if they want to stay up longer,
at least this task is done,” says Dr. Mohsenzadeh. “This also
has health benefits, in that your kids are not consuming food up until
the last minute before they go to bed, allowing their stomachs more time
for digestion before they fall asleep.”
Go high tech. "If it's hard to tear your child away from his tablet, use it
to your advantage. There are many apps that encourage kids to brush their
teeth," Dr. Mohsenzadeh says. "Some play music or videos, others
turn tooth brushing into a game. They'll often have built-in timers
to ensure that two minutes of brushing actually happens."
The Children’s Mobile Dental Clinic, founded by Queen of the Valley
Medical Center and its partners, provides basic preventive care and restorative
dental services to low-income families in Napa County. To learn more, click
here. To learn more about Dr. Mohsenzadeh, click
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.