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Tooth decay is one of the most common childhood diseases. Poor habits established in childhood can lead to unnecessary pain, poor dental health, and, in extreme cases, serious illness.

Many parents know its important to brush twice a day but have children who are scared or unwilling to cooperate. Forcing a child to do something they don't want to do is stressful and difficult, but some tips can help parents encourage children to embrace the brush.

Use Positive Reinforcement

When it comes to brushing teeth, punishments and shouting do more harm than good. Children who see their parents becoming stressed and angry are more likely to become stressed and angry themselves and to associate these feelings with brushing.

Try to remain calm and positive. It's more effective to reward a child for brushing well than to punish them for brushing poorly.

smiling parents helping toddler brush her teeth

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Check the Toothbrush They're Using

Many children resist brushing their teeth because they're afraid of pain. Make sure a child's tooth brush has very soft bristles to avoid irritating their delicate gums.

The handle should be short enough for a child to comfortably hold by their mouth. Soft bristles and a gentle brushing technique are especially important for children who already have sore teeth.

children's toothbrushes in a cup on the counter

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Brush Alongside Them

Young children love to copy their favorite grown-ups. Parents can encourage their kids by getting the same color toothbrush and brushing side by side.

Kids don't have the dexterity to thoroughly brush their teeth alone until they're about seven, but they can practice by mimicking their parent's movements in the mirror. Once the parent's teeth are brushed, they can help the child get those hard-to-reach spots.

mother and son brushing teeth together in the mirror

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Use the Tell-Show-Do Technique

Reinforcement helps a child learn. First, use simple instructions to tell a child how to properly brush their teeth. Second, show them how it's done on a doll, teddy bear, or by brushing in front of them. Explain the steps again while doing this.

Thirdly, help the child brush their own teeth. This method works best with toddlers, but it can be used with older children as well. Keep explanations age-appropriate and consistently check in to make sure the child remembers the steps.

father showing his daughter how to brush her teeth

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Establish a Thoughtful Routine

As much as possible, brush close to the same time every morning and evening. This schedule may require some changes in early days. For example, a child who resists brushing their teeth before bed because they're too tired may need to brush right after dinner instead.

Try not to give in to tantrums. If a child learns that they can disrupt an unwanted routine by yelling or crying, they're more likely to resist in the future.

little girl rinsing her mouth after brushing

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Let Them Make Choices

Children are likely to be more invested in brushing their teeth if they're using supplies they chose. Try letting the child choose their own toothpaste at the store. Any toothpaste with fluoride should work.

Many children's toothbrushes are decorated with characters or bright colors and it's exciting for a child to pick out their favorites from a store shelf. If price is an issue, consider showing the child three to four options within the price range.

little girl choosing her favorite toothbrush

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Consider Going Electric

Electric toothbrushes tend to be more effective at reducing plaque. Some are made specifically for children, with colorful designs and built in timers to let them know when they've brushed long enough.

Some children enjoy the novelty of using an electric toothbrush, and many parents find them easier to use.

little boy using electric toothbrush

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Play Their Favorite Song

Sometimes the struggle is not getting a child to brush their teeth, but encouraging them to brush thoroughly. Many adults fail to brush the recommended two minutes, let alone children. Music can help.

Put on a child's favorite song and encourage them to brush for the full play time.

toddler listening to music while brushing their teeth

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Make It A Competition

One way to encourage thorough brushing is to make it a game. A parent can challenge their child to see who can brush their teeth the longest, forfeiting after the child has thoroughly brushed.

Siblings can have a friendly competition to see who ends up with the foamiest mouth or who can count all of their teeth while brushing.

big brother and little sister brushing teeth together

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Go Step-By-Step

Some stubborn toddlers are not convinced by games or prizes or colorful tooth brushes. Maybe they're determined to brush their teeth on their own. Perhaps they're overwhelmed by the whole process. Parents can address both problems by breaking the process down into smaller steps.

Starting out by brushing just two teeth is better than not brushing at all. An independent toddler may accept their parent's help more easily if they were allowed to put the toothpaste on their brush or fill their own cup with water.

little girl and father brushing their teeth

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.