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How to Get Kids to Brush and Floss Their Teeth

Updated on September 26, 2017
stephhicks68 profile image

Stephanie has had four children, including a set of twins! She loves to share ideas on raising kids - the good, bad and ugly!

Establish a Lifetime of Good Dental Health for Your Children

We all know that its important to brush and floss your teeth daily, but its often hard to get children to complete this simple task. Generally speaking, kids younger than age 6 will need parental assistance with brushing and flossing to ensure that it is done correctly. Once children reach school age, they can be expected to brush and floss independently morning and night.

But how can you get them to consistently do so without nagging?

Oral hygiene is more than just fresh breath and clean teeth. Good dental health is a cornerstone of personal care. As we get older, plaque can lead to gingivitis, which is characterized by bleeding gums, tooth decay, loss of teeth and even heart disease. Dental care is just as important for growing children as getting to the doctor for annual check-ups.

Encouraging children to develop thorough, consistent habits of brushing and flossing their teeth teaches self-respect, pride and responsibility. As a mom of four kids, ages 8-14, I've tried just about every trick in the book to get my children to learn dental hygiene. I take them to the dentist twice a year and am happy to report we haven't had any cavities for nearly 5 years in our family.

If it is a struggle in your home to get kids to brush and floss your teeth, you are not alone. Read on for some tips to help improve oral health in your family.

How to get kids to brush and floss their teeth
How to get kids to brush and floss their teeth | Source

Make Brushing and Flossing Fun for Kids

Pediatric dentists and other experts suggest that children get used to having their teeth brushed as early as possible.

Before baby teeth even erupt, you can start good dental habits by gently wiping down gums with a clean, damp washcloth or a fingertip toothbrush. Move the washcloth or fingertip brush in a circular movement while singing a soft song. By the time your child has a few teeth, cleaning their mouth will have started to become habit.

When kids are old enough to brush their teeth - either on their own or with adult assistance, make the practice fun so you experience less resistance.

Here are some ideas that may encourage your children to enjoy brushing and flossing:

  • Practice beforehand with an old toothbrush on a stuffed animal or doll
  • Sing a fun "brush your teeth" song - make up silly words and dance along!
  • Use a tooth brushing timer
  • Consider chewable tablets that turn plaque pink, and then brush away the color with a toothbrush
  • Get a character themed toothbrush and/or spin toothbrush
  • Use flavored toothpaste (with your dentist's approval)
  • Keep track of brushing and flossing with a star or reward chart

Brush Your Teeth Song to Encourage Kids

Establish a Reward System When your Kids Brush and Floss

Children as young as 2 may positively respond to a reward system for brushing and flossing. One of the easiest ways of keeping track of good dental hygiene habits is with a chart. When posted in the bathroom, it becomes a constant reminder for your kids to brush and floss their teeth.

Of course, children younger than 6 will need adult assistance to properly brush and floss. Even though you may be the one completing the task, rewarding your children for each day or week that they consistently care for their teeth can establish a good responsibility foundation for when they are older. My kids are now in elementary school and middle school, but we still keep a brushing and flossing reward chart for the youngest children!

With a reward system or chart, it is best to have your kids work toward non-food related goals, consistent with the purpose of establishing good dental hygiene. Consider offering an outing to a movie, a sleep-over with a friend, or a visit to Grandma's house as a reward for a certain number of days they remember to brush and floss. For younger children that are afraid of or resistant to having their teeth brushed, each week that they complete with your help may earn a small reward such as a coloring book or the opportunity to stay up 1/2 hour later one evening.

Pre-teens and teens have usually outgrown a reward chart, but you can still encourage them to brush and floss with incentives. My kids can earn up to $1 bonus "allowance" for every week that they brush, floss, wear their retainer/headgear and rubber bands on their braces without our reminding them.

Some dentists also reward children that have a no cavity check-up. Our pediatric dentist has a wall on which kids can put up a piece of paper with their first name that proclaims they have no cavities. Once a month, the dentist picks one name randomly and that child earns a $25 gift certificate of their choice.

Brush your teeth!
Brush your teeth! | Source
Kids!  Brush your teeth!
Kids! Brush your teeth! | Source

Be a Model of Good Oral Hygiene Habits

Let's face it - kids want to do the same things that they see their parents or guardians do. By brushing and flossing daily yourself, and going to the dentist twice a year, you can be a model of good oral hygiene habits.

Invite your kids into the bathroom when you are getting ready in the morning or preparing to go to bed. Share your experiences after a visit to your own dentist with your family. When you show your children that you are consistently taking care of your own teeth, they may be more motivated to brush and floss - hopefully with less nagging!

Children learn to brush and floss from our modeled behavior
Children learn to brush and floss from our modeled behavior | Source

Talk to Your Pediatric Dentist

It is important that you talk to your pediatric dentist about specific concerns related to your child's teeth. They may have recommendations to help address certain conditions such as a strong gag reflex, crooked or grooved teeth, or the child that consistently swallows toothpaste instead of spitting it out. Your dentist may also recommend a specific diet for your child, if necessary, such as avoiding gummy fruit snacks or eating low acid fruits and vegetables.

Regular dental visits for children are an important habit to establish along with daily brushing and flossing. Years ago, dentists did not see children for a first visit until they were at least 3 years old. Today, however, babies are encouraged to visit a pediatric dentist as early as age 1, as part of their overall health care.

If you have any questions, be sure to talk with your pediatrician who can likely recommend a good pediatric dentist in your area.

For Parents of Older Children: Brushing with Braces

Do you Have Difficulty in Getting your Kids to Brush and Floss their Teeth?

See results

Another Fun "Brush Your Teeth" Song for Kids from the Wiggles

© 2012 Stephanie Hicks

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    • kidzonedental profile image

      kidzonedental 5 years ago from india

      Great to have this blog, I love my kids and their health,

      i go for regular checkup in pediatric dentist Sugarland.

      I support to Kidzonedental.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Laura, you are right that some kids just inherit teeth that are prone to cavities (deep grooves and pits), but way to go making it into a family toothbrushing and flossing affair! :) Cheers, Steph

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Great hub! At 4, my son had 2 cavities (bad genes, I guess!) but that kicked us into gear and now the whole family brushes and flosses together. I let my kids brush and floss on their own first and then I have my "20 seconds" to do the mommy brushing. They are generally pretty cooperative. They love the individual flossers - they taste great and the kids ones have fun shapes on them.

    • profile image

      Family Dentistry The Woodlands TX 5 years ago

      Positive reinforcement is always the best method when teaching children to brush their teeth, although flossing is an additional challenge.

      http://www.larawayfamilydentistry.com/

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Eddy,

      A hub written straight from my own experience as a parent trying to get my own kids to brush and floss. :) Best to you, Steph

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Very useful and well informed;thank you so much for sharing.

      Take care and enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Shorty,

      Thanks! The feeling of having a toothbrush in a child's mouth is an important first step to getting them to enjoy brushing their teeth. Appreciate your comment. Best, Steph

    • profile image

      shorty72 5 years ago

      I am glad that this hub is out there for peaple to get tips on how to encourage their kids to brush there teeth.

      I have two children and from a very young age say about 1 I gave them a toothbrush and they used to walk around with it in their mouth. They used to chew on it I think it helped with their teeth coming through and as they got older I would put a little bit of toothpaste on it and they would watch me and copy what I did.

      Thankyou steph for an informative hub

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Alissa,

      Isn't it funny that your 3 year old is better at brushing and flossing than his older brother? Hope the reward chart is effective. Cheers, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Purple Perl,

      Thanks - it was a great hub to write, especially considering the struggles we've had at times getting our own kids to brush and floss. I appreciate the comment! Best, Steph

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      These are all such great tips! I have a really hard time getting my 6 yr to brush his teeth. I am going to try the reward chart to help him out. My 3 yr old is just the opposite - he loves to brush his teeth (crossing my fingers it stays that way!) Great hub - voted up and awesome!

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 5 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Stephanie,this hub is an excellent guide for all parents to read, bookmark and implement. Oral hygiene is such an important habit to be inculcated in the formative years and yet many neglect,only to repent much later in life.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Kelley,

      Toothbrushes that sing for 3 minutes?! I wish they had those when my kids were younger. Awesome! Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Cardelean,

      That is so great that you don't have to nag on the dental hygiene! My own children are quite compliant, but I am just tired of reminding them (the older two are pretty much there, however). Off to go read your hub on the first trip to the dentist - that sounds like a super topic. Best, Steph

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Great tips. I really don't have much of a prob getting my boys to brush their teeth. We have the new fun toothbrushes that sing for a full 3 minutes. They are great!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      Great tips Steph. I don't usually have a problem with dental hygiene with my kids. We've had successful dentist appointments so far even though they are still young. Anything to make stuff that doesn't seem so fun a little more fun usually works for kids. I wrote a hub about preparing your child for a first trip to the dentist a while back. If you don't mind I'm going to link this one to it.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Marie,

      The disposable toothbrushes sound like a perfect idea, and isn't that what helps encourage kids to brush and floss - making it fun? Thanks for the comment and best to you, Steph

    • Marie Gail profile image

      Marie Gail Stratford 5 years ago from Olathe, KS

      Excellent Hub! Beautifully written with great ideas and good videos. My nieces have been brushing since they were toddlers. When they spend the night with me, sometimes they seem to think they can "get a break" from oral hygiene. Recently I found some little disposable toothbrushes that come in packets of 8 and include a little floss tip. They love them!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi ktrapp,

      I should have added that our dentist offers 1-hour cards to the older kids for bowling or an indoor video game arcade. He really does have incentives for kids of all ages to be cavity-free.

      The liquid stuff that turns teeth colors is cool, too. There is a brand called "Agent Blue." I should add that above. Electric toothbrushes - or even just manual spin brushes also are fun for kids as you note. Thanks for stopping by. Best, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Krystal,

      A puppet sounds like a great tool for teaching kids how to brush their teeth! I'm sure those young children love to be entertained while they learn. Thanks for the comment - Cheers, Steph

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      I love the chart and drawing for a gift card that your dentist has for kids that are cavity-free at their appointments. I think that is such a good idea, especially for the kids as they get a little older.

      When my kids were young we sometimes used the liquid that turns teeth colors where they didn't brush well (like the tablets you describe), and a sand timer so they brushed long enough. Electric toothbrushes also made brushing a little more fun for them when they were big enough to handle it. Great hub!

    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Wow. This was an extremely useful and details hub. We use a puppet to help teach Kindergarteners how to brush. It is a huge hit!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Tracy,

      You are sooo not alone! My 14 year old and almost 12 year old still need reminding to brush. In fact, I no longer ask them, but rather simply say, before you walk out the door go upstairs and brush your teeth! I'm with you - I don't remember my mom remind us either. Perhaps its just that there are so many more distractions for kids these days?? Cheers to you - Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
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      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Simone - that last part of your comment totally cracked me up! But yes, our mothers must have done something right ... I never had any cavities until I was in my 30s! Cheers, Steph

    • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

      Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA

      Super cool hub! The battle to get my four kids to brush their teeth seems never ending. Lately my two youngest have finally begun doing this without me asking at bedtime but in the morning I still have to remind all but my oldest, she is 12. I have to say I don't ever remember my Mother having to remind me of this, this came as a parenting surprise, among others lol. Great work Steph!

      ~voted up and awesome~

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      SUCH a good Hub! My mother was really good about instituting a reward system (we marked things on my calendar) and I've been cavity-free ever since. These little things can make a lifelong difference!

      Also, even as someone who is terrible around kids, looking at these adorable photos of children brushing their teeth totally makes me want to be a mother. But only to children who are in the act of brushing their teeth.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Dawn,

      We had the same issue with my oldest son - he couldn't get braces at first until he improved his dental hygiene habits. Also, a few stern discussions from the dentist helped a bit - and this was when he was 10 years old! Interesting to see the variations in habits and attention to brushing and flossing as a child grows up and in different situations. Thanks for the comment - Cheers, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you K9! Our pediatrician gave us that tip about gum cleaning so many years ago. Its all about routine! I appreciate the comment and the ratings, as always. Best to you, Steph

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Bookmom,

      My daughter loved role-playing being the mom brushing her stuffed animals teeth. It made the whole process fun and relatively easy. Hope it works for you too! Best, Steph

    • Dawn Conklin profile image

      Dawn Conklin 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Great job on this one! My kids go through phases I noticed. My younger daughter used to tell us she needed to brush her teeth because she was getting tired and wanted to go to bed. Now some nights she begs me to do it for her and tries to act like she is too tired to do it. My older daughter has some issues with brushing her teeth. She does it without fighting here (tho when she was younger she went through a phase where she didn't want to do it) but when she goes to visit her Dad, she often doesn't brush. She has been unable to get her braces the ortho wanted her to get to straighten out the bottom teeth because of her brushing habits there. She also has had a couple cavities so far and it still hasn't helped.

      I am not sure why she doesn't brush them well at her Dad's. He has all the stuff for her to brush her teeth so I don't know what the deal is there.

      This is great information for people to help establish good brushing habits! Voted up :)

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 5 years ago from Northern, California

      As expected, this is simply a fantastic guide. Love the ideas you present, and especially for wiping down the gums before any teeth even show up. This is positive conditioning for a life of beautifully white teeth for children! You rock Steph! UP and awesome, of course.

      HubHugs~

      K9

    • thebookmom profile image

      thebookmom 5 years ago from Nebraska

      Great hub! Really thorough and helpful. I love the idea of practicing on a stuffed animal, my middle girl who hates to brush will love this. I'm hoping it will motivate her to be a good example to her animal and SHOW him how to brush too :) Thanks so much for the ideas.