8 Struggle-Free Tips to Brush Your Child’s Teeth

What is it about brushing that is so difficult for kids? Mark Burhenne, DDS provides 8 struggle-free tips to brush your child's teeth.

What is it about brushing before bed that makes kids totally hyper? Our kids would suddenly start bouncing off the walls when it was time to brush their teeth.

One of our daughters even used to flat-out refuse to brush her teeth as a toddler.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Most of us, myself included, tend to play hardball. But this can result in resentment and a fear of the dentist later on in life.

Tips to Brush Your Child’s Teeth

These unconventional tips will help take the struggle out of brushing and flossing your child’s teeth, and maybe even turn it into a routine your child looks forward to!

  1. Make it a family activity. Brush and floss in front of your child enough times, and he or she is going to want to join in! Dance, turn it into a game, or do whatever it takes to convince your child that this is a fun daily routine that they’re missing out on. One parent can brush the other parent’s teeth. Or, better yet, let your child brush your teeth for you! (Good luck and try not to grimace!) Your child can brush the dog’s teeth (No sharing!). Kids want to feel in control, not like someone is coming at their mouth with a pointy object. Since you are your child’s model, brush up on your own brushing and flossing technique.
  1. Get out of the bathroom. Pack travel toothbrushes and flossing sticks so you can brush on the beach after a family picnic. Brush in the car. My wife and I stash toothbrushes in the center console of our car, purse, and briefcase, so our daughters could always see us brushing and flossing after snacks on-the-go.
  1. Make Toothpaste Optional. Toothpaste far too often limits when and where we brush. Toothpaste can make kids gag or need to spit, as well as add unnecessary mess, making it a chore. I’ve found that toothpaste just reminds parents that they’ll have to go into the bathroom with a bottle of Windex to wipe down the sink afterward. So skip the toothpaste — it’s not necessary!
  1. Get in front of the mirror. Most parents sit their child down on the toilet and stick a toothbrush in their mouth. Kids invariably hate this. Have your child looking at a mirror instead, while you stand behind to brush. This makes kids feel more in control and more at ease.
  1. Avoid gauze. Lots of baby books recommend using gauze to wipe your baby’s teeth. I’ve found that gauze isn’t effective and wastes precious time to teach your child the proper way to brush. No child is going to get excited to brush their teeth when their first experience is the cottony taste of gauze — yuck!
  1. Make it a priority. We’re all squeezing oral hygiene into our busy schedules, and our children interpret this to mean that it’s not important. Parents rush through it, and so kids try to get it done as quickly as possible too. Rushing it leads to over brushing, which is a common cause of tooth sensitivity, since over brushing causes small lesions in the teeth. Now is the time to send the message to your kids that their oral health is a priority. Take it slow and make time for it!
  1. Don’t threaten. The best thing you can do is keep it positive. Children are often told that if they don’t brush, they’ll have to see the dentist as a punishment. I can say from experience that shame simply doesn’t work when it comes to making brushing and flossing a habit. Instead, play your child’s favorite song while brushing.
  1. Go analog. Buy a cheap hourglass with sand in it that your child can turn over to see how long they need to brush. Digital timers aren’t as tangible for children, who crave something more physical.

So, which one of these tips will you try out tonight? Which tips do you have to make brushing and flossing struggle-free at your house? Let me know in the comments below!

Published on: May 20, 2015
About the Author
Photo of Mark Burhenne DDS
Dr. Burhenne is a family and sleep medicine dentist. He is dedicated to helping the world understand the connection between oral health and overall wellness through his blog, Ask the Dentist. Get Dr. Burhenne's book, The Eight Hour Sleep Paradox: How We Are Sleeping Our Way to Disease, Fatigue, and Unhappiness on Amazon.

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Recent Comments

my poor little girl is starting to really destroy her little beautiful teeth, don’t get me wrong we as in my wife & I try but I put her finger brush on and attempt to put my finger on her teeth & OMG its as if she is actually being killed “NO JOKE ” people im scared . I need help cause its bound to happen she will end up getting poked & prodded by the tooth doctor and its a really really bad tuff situation for all of us im so desperate and worried for her I wish it was leagal to knock her out morning & night so I can brush them for her .. please some one out there I need help cause her little teeth are getting to the point…… help us

Oh, man. I feel for ya. She might do better if you let her hold a toothbrush. How about a singing kiddy electric toothbrush? Or maybe try a Waterpik. That’s not going to actually brush her teeth, but at least you’d make progress. Good luck!

I have a problem I know this is for little kids but I have a 18year old teenager and she will not brush her teeth she has been told by the dentist and she has a brace fitid I have told her what going to happen if she doesn’t clean them I don’t know what to do. Thankyou Louisa

My daughter’s least favorite part of the day is brushing her teeth. It is good to know that to help the cause, one should have the child look in the mirror. I did not realize that this makes kids feel more in control and more at ease. Hopefully this method will work for us so we can be more prepared for my daughter’s next dental visit.

Thanks for sharing! This blog would be really helpful but I am looking for something that would teach our kids brush their teeth on their own. I’ve let my nieces watch a cartoon together (regarding how to properly brush their teeth and they got very excited to brush their teeth correctly, but only for few days. Is there any brushing game or device that our kids can use to motivate them brush their teeth? I heard from a friend that there will be new product, [redacted], which will be released this March. Before its launch to the market, she actually worked as a tester for the product. Surprisingly, she found it very engaging and fun! I will surely try out this product but if you guys have other suggestions, I am open to it because our kids are just so crazy about sweets and they don’t even want to brush their teeth. :(

Give the child as much control as you can. When they get to decide times when to brush teeth, how many strokes to do, what toothbrush to use, what toothpaste to use, what stool to stand on, etc., things will be easier on both of you.

I really like how you suggested that, “Brush and floss in front of your child enough times, and he or she is going to want to join in.” This is a great idea since they always want to copy everything that we do. My kid is two now and does not want to brush his teeth. Thanks for sharing because I will try out these tips on brushing.

I try to make brushing your teeth into a competition with my kids. I tell them that they have to have the whitest teeth, and the dentist will tell me the winner when we visit him. Then the think of brushing your teeth at night as a fun and competitive thing, instead of something to dread before going to bed.

It’s so hard right now to get my one year old to brush. She is entering the “do it myself” stage, and won’t let us help her. However, she just sucks on the toothbrush! I like the idea of making it a family activity because I think that if she sees how my husband and I brush our teeth, it might help her learn the right way to do it. Thanks so much for all these ideas!

I have the hardest time brushing my kid’s teeth, and I have no idea what to do about it. This being said, I really appreciate you giving me these 8 ways I can make brushing their teeth a little easier for me. I’ll be sure to try your tips out and see how they all help. Thanks a ton for all your insight.

I have never heard your tip about making toothpaste optional. It never occurred to me that this could help my kids to brush more where they need to. It’s funny how you start to believe the minty toothpaste is what is cleaning your teeth, but it is actually the brush. Thank you for the applicable tip!

We have been trying to figure out ways to help our kids brush enjoy brushing their teeth so that we can begin to make it a habit for them. It seems like a struggle every night that we try to get them to brush because they don’t like doing it. We loved number 7, and we realized that we had definitely been threatening them if they didn’t brush their teeth, so hopefully if we keep it more positive they will enjoy brushing more. Thanks for sharing these tips!

Your tip to pack travel toothbrushes and floss wherever I go seems like a great way to make it easier to take care of my kid’s teeth. I agree with your point that being a good role model for my son and brushing and flossing my teeth after I eat would make it easier for him to understand why it’s important to practice good oral hygiene. It’s important to me to be a good role model for him, so I should start doing that so that my son will always know to brush his teeth every time he eats something. Thanks for the tips!

Thanks for the tips, it will really help getting my son to brush his teeth. Brushing my own teeth with him might inspire him to want to do the same. I will also try stashing travel tooth brushes in the car.

Thanks for your suggestions, Mark. I especially like the tip about making brushing a family activity. My daughter is always wanting to do what I do, so it is a really great idea to make sure we are brushing our teeth together and making it fun for her.

I’ve also read in baby books that using gauze is a good way to brush your baby’s teeth for the first time. I agree, it seems like kids will be less likely to brush their teeth if they associate it with the taste of gauze. What would you suggest for parents to do when they’re brushing their kid’s teeth for the first time? It seems like using soft bristled child size toothbrushes would be suitable, but I’m not sure if that would be too harsh on my kid’s teeth.

Thanks for giving me some helpful tips, Mark! I’ve always struggled with getting my child to brush his teeth. I think he doesn’t like the taste of toothpaste, so, since you’ve suggested that it’s optional, I think he’ll like it much better without it. Should I offer a candy incentive to get him to brush?

Lily de Grey