One of the many special moments most parents experience with their baby is the arrival of the first tooth. You post pictures, call your mom, and share it with the world. But as they get older and all the baby teeth come in, reality hits. You realize those adorable teeth need to be brushed twice each day by a toddler with a short attention span who has no interest in oral hygiene.
Since brushing their teeth is non-negotiable, finding ways to make it fun is your best bet if you want your kids to develop good habits and avoid cavities. For my children, I tried to make brushing their teeth a special responsibility. Here are some tricks that can help you foster good habits at a very young age.
1. Get Matching Toothbrushes
When my daughter was little she never went anywhere without Nina, her plush doll. So, when we went to our pediatric dentist, she asked for and received two toothbrushes. The dentist played along and taught her how to brush her teeth and Nina’s. When we got home, brushing Nina’s teeth became part of her morning and evening tooth brushing habit. First, she brushed Nina’s teeth and then she brushed her own with a little help from me. It worked like a charm!
2. Make a brushing chart
Some kids need reminders and incentives to brush their teeth, especially children like my son who would rather be playing basketball than doing anything else. I found it helpful to make a little chart and put it in the bathroom mirror. Every time he brushed his teeth, he would get a check mark. At the end of the week if he got all his check marks, he would get a basketball sticker. I found this really incentivized him and let me know that he had indeed brushed twice each day.
3. Take the Kids Toothbrush Shopping
There are so many great flavors and characters on toothpaste tubes and brushes these days that the very act of shopping for a toothbrush and toothpaste can be as fun for kids as getting a new toy. I remember my daughter loved Barbie and my son loved SpongeBob, so letting them choose their favorite characters was a big motivator for them.
4. Play Some Music When They Are Brushing
Whether it’s Wheels on the Bus or Kidz Bop, my children always loved hearing the same song over and over. If you are having trouble getting your kids to brush their teeth, adding a little music to the mix is a great way to get them dancing and brushing at the same time. I also found that when I played the same song before they had to brush their teeth, they knew what was expected of them and they would pick up their brushes without my asking them.
5. Let Them Play Dentist
There is nothing kids enjoy more than playing grown-up roles. When my daughter refused to let me help her brush, I told her she could brush my teeth first. As her little fingers scrubbed everything from my chin to my nose, she giggled and played and had the time of her life. Then she let me do the same for her and it turned brush time into fun time.
When it comes to getting your kids to brush their teeth, a little creativity goes a long way. I found having them brush at the same time each day, playing the same music, and giving them the same expectations helped create good habits from a very young age. The good news is, now that they’re both teenagers, I don’t need to give them a sticker or play “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” to get them to brush.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Natalie Pennington, DDS, April 2019