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Guiding Young Children With Brushing Teeth

A teddy bear on a toothbrush car saying remember us at bedtime

Somewhere between having a kid’s school clothes rock Colgate patches as an official sponsor and giving a kid Mr. Dew in his sippy cup lies a vast span of options on how to raise kids to make dental care a priority. Since brushing teeth is often the first and biggest battle, let’s tackle that one. At Carolina Family Dental, we’ve come up with 5 tips for getting kids to brush their teeth. Check it out!

Think Like a Kid

Young children do not have the ability to process consequences the way we would like, yet they come preloaded with instincts that are powerful. Jealousy, greed, anger, are just a few emotions young children have. And even more, what are the causes of these emotions and how can we manage them to help the child? Let’s look at several:


Create Positive Peer Pressure

For example, normalize best practices in dental care. If everyone else in the family is brushing teeth twice a day, then the younger child will accept it as normal…probably. Another tool is to make a big deal out of bad breath and then sell brushing as a way of making sure the child doesn’t have something soooo awful.

Use Greed/Jealousy

Kids don’t like to share, so designate certain toothpaste or brushes (of course) as theirs. 

Generate Competition 

Make a reward system like a penny jar for completed brushings and let it be a race with siblings if the kids are old enough.

Challenge Them. 

“Let’s see who can clean the most sides of their teeth with the toothbrush.” “I once brushed for 2 minutes and 11 seconds. Do you think you can beat that?”

Make It Fun!  

You probably learned the names of farm animals from kiddie books and maybe cartoons and such. No one forced you to learn them. You were just curious and entertained. Well, learning to care for teeth can be that way, too. Make brushing teeth entertaining and interesting. Try things such as:


Make It an Adventure

Ask things like, “Wait. I need to go ask your toothbrush a silly question. I may need help.” Or do a toothbrush scavenger hunt. Anything that gets the excitement level up. 

Give Them Choices

Kids love choices. It’s a touch of power and it’s exhilarating to them. Have several toothbrushes and toothpaste flavors and let the children pick. For extra fun, hold them behind your back and have the child guess which one you’re holding. Chance or luck is really exciting. 

Keep It Positive

Where possible, use positive reinforcement. And instead of saying, “If you don’t brush, you’ll have a time out;” (many young kids are not good with if/then statements) say, “It’s okay, Sweetie. Brushing teeth comes next.” Change your commands over to procedures or habits where possible.

Be Silly

Brush the dog’s teeth, brush a stuffed animal’s teeth, play music and dance in the bathroom when you are brushing your own teeth. Okay, we went too far. Sorry about that. But you get the idea. 

Be That Superhero Friend

As a parent it’s such a tough line between being a parent and a friend. When it comes to pediatric dental care, though, you may have to slip into the friend mode more than you would like. Negative tones and punishments often backfire. They can create sneaky and snarky kids. So take advantage of your temporary superhero status and come down to their level and make things fun and, even more importantly, set a good example.


Set an Example 

Have a good attitude about brushing teeth and your oral health overall. Keep a package of floss in your pocket or purse that whips out like a gun at the OK Corral as soon a meal is over.  As you know with raising kids in general, “More is caught than taught.” 

Value the Procedures

Every hero has a “hero’s code.” It’s the immutable values and rules by which they make all their decisions. Yours can include good hygiene. 

Inspire Others to Join This Challenge

Procedures and standards are great to have, but only if they are implemented consistently and by others. The most effective thing a superhero does is get a great team of people on board with the mission. To do that, he or she leads by example and encourages the others. Basically, you’re cheerleading the household into a culture of good dental practices.

Get the Right Tools

If you were painting a fence, you would show up with a proper brush, perfect paint, sufficient drop cloths, and extra rags - or whatever it takes to do the job. Teaching teeth brushing to a young child is no different. You have to get brushes that make kids want to scrub and toothpaste that makes them want to clean. So spend the extra $2 on a better brush, or more than one brush, and make it better for everyone.  


Get Fun Toothbrushes

Kids’ toothbrushes are fun, often brightly colored or marked with famous characters or themes. If you need to take it up a notch, try an electric toothbrush. The sound and vibration is thrilling to kids and if buying one of those gets your kid to clean their teeth without a fight, then it’s worth its weight 10x over. 

Buy Dynamic Toothpaste

All of the major brands offer toothpaste that is packaged in an attractive way. Having the choice from several flavors or textures can make brushing teeth a pleasurable experience. Creating choice is a powerful psychological tool. 

Bring in the Helpers

Toothbrush holders or drawer organizers provide other opportunities for fun. And bits of personalization are good. Decorating the pieces, for example, is a great way for the kids to have ownership of this process and find significance in it.

Choose Your Professionals

Dental teams with a lot of experience and training can make all the difference. It’s not just that they do the work of professional pediatric dental care, they also reinforce what you’re doing at home. Of course the converse is true as well. An untrained or uncaring dental team can undo the work you’ve been doing - getting the child to trust the staff, care about hygiene, and follow through on procedures. 


Look for Experience/Training

A dental team like ours at Carolina Family Dental will welcome children with excited faces and sometimes an object to distract the young patients. These techniques and many more we’ve been learning through the years serving all ages. We also pursue the latest in developments in pediatric dental care.

Notice the Genuine Care

Little kids are incredibly intuitive and they can often tell when they are enjoyed versus tolerated. We try to only hire kind, patient team members who really love kids. When it comes to having professionals leading the kids in activities such as brushing teeth, it’s critical that the children feel wanted and safe, both physically and emotionally. In education circles the very famous aphorism, “They won’t care how much you know till they know how much you care,” is so true. We like kids and they can feel the difference. 

In short, if you make the experiences associated with brushing teeth positive and fun, and you set a good example, then both you and your child should be on the way to smiling like the Cheshire Cat for years to come. Contact us and ask about our pediatric dental care!