We all know how important it is to brush your teeth. Those of us with children know how difficult it is to convince them that it is important to brush their teeth as well. The truth is that the concepts of cavities and gum disease do not provide effective incentive for children to get in the habit of brushing regularly. This, combined with the many reasons your child may avoid teeth brushing, can make getting your child to brush their teeth an uphill battle.
Before you get too frustrated, remember that you have been brushing your teeth – probably twice per day, if not more – for years. But, for your child, this is a fairly new experience. It has not become habit, and they are not used to the idea or sensation of teeth brushing. A little bit of empathy for your child’s perspective can go a long way towards keeping your patience.
Common Reasons Children Resist Teeth Brushing
There are a few common reasons why children fight brushing their teeth. These include simply not being used to it, as mentioned above. Having their teeth brushed may still feel foreign and uncomfortable. If your child has consistently struggled against you during brushing sessions, this is likely the issue at hand.
Additionally, young children are typically either growing teeth or losing teeth, which can make the mouth a sensitive area. Trying to avoid pain and discomfort is instinct. If your child is intermittently resistant to teeth brushing or suddenly becomes disinclined to open their mouth to allow you to brush after a raw or painful experience, then this is something for you to be mindful of.
Your child may also be trying to assert their independence in rebelling against you. The hallmark signs of this issue are temper tantrums, emotional reactions when you mention it being time to brush teeth, and clamping the mouth shut.
Of course, your child may fall into all three of these categories during separate phases of their development – or they could even be reacting for any combination of these factors at the same time. While it may be tempting to give up brushing baby teeth altogether, remember that this is an important part of habit formation that will serve their lifelong health. In the meantime, there are some fun strategies you can try to convince your toddler to brush their teeth.
Fun Ways to Encourage Teeth Brushing
1. Get a new toothbrush.
This may seem like a small thing, but the novelty of a new toothbrush may help to encourage your child to start brushing. Many companies make child-themed toothbrushes. Many of these feature favorite characters from kids’ TV shows or movies. Surprise them with a new friend to brush with. Or, you can simply go for a new color.
Some children feel more invested if they get to select the toothbrush themselves at the store. Make getting a new toothbrush a fun new ritual each month – even if they do not need one.
You may also find that having a few different toothbrushes helps to pique your child’s interest. Getting to select which toothbrush to use each night can make it feel more fun
2. Let your child pick the flavor of the toothpaste.
Most adults are used to the taste of toothpaste and have found the flavor they prefer to use. Give your child that same opportunity to exercise their personal taste. If they complain that they do not like the taste of the toothpaste, try different ones until you strike a match. Remember that the same flavor can even differ between brands, so you have more options than you think.
If all else fails, brushing without toothpaste is always an option. If your tot simply hates every flavor you bring home, brushing without toothpaste is significantly better than nothing at all.
3. Brush together.
If your child feels like they are the only ones undergoing this unique form of dental torture, they are much less likely to engage in it. Let them see you brushing your teeth. If they have older siblings that they tend to cop, that’s even better.
You can also try incorporating teeth-brushing into games with dolls or stuffed animals. Once your toddler sees that everyone brushes their teeth, they will be much more likely to accept it themselves.
4. Create a reward system.
We have already mentioned that children are simply not incentivized by the threat of cavities or gum disease. They are much more motivated by fun than they are by necessity and good hygiene. So, provide a fun incentive for them. There are many ways to do this, and the best method will be one unique to your child’s own personal likes and dislikes.
A favorite method is to keep a sticker calendar – and to give a gold star (or whichever sticker they like best) for each night that they brush their teeth. Once they accumulate a certain number of nights in a row, they can select a favorite sugary treat or get a new small toy.
5. Couple teeth brushing with their favorite show.
This tip could be tied in with creating a reward system, if you let them watch a favorite bedtime show only after they brush their teeth. Or you can simply rely on a favorite show as a distraction. If your child is very resistant, even dry brushing while they watch a show can help them to relax while you brush their teeth. Eventually, your child should become more accepting of the routine and will be able to join you in the bathroom for a more proper cleaning.
Remember to maintain your patience and to work on encouraging your child to brush their teeth instead of punishing them into doing it. By employing a few of these tips, even the most stubborn child will be happily brushing in no time!
Andrew is a keen student studying to become a dentist. His passion for dentistry first ignited when visiting his father at the local practice he worked for. He currently writes for Twentytooth.com and hopes that after studying he can open his own dental practice and help people in need with their oral health.