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Make brushing fun for your little ones

Sometimes the only thing more difficult than getting kids to bed on time is getting them to clean their teeth properly.

More than a third of the respondents (36 percent) to a Delta Dental Plans Association survey of American children’s oral health* admit their child brushes his or her teeth less than once a day. Similarly, nearly half (45 percent) of caregivers say their children brush their teeth for a minute or less – dentists recommend spending two minutes or more and brushing twice each day.

If you feel challenged getting your child to brush his or her teeth, try some of the following tips:

  • Trade places: Tired of prying your way in whenever it's time to brush your child’s teeth? Why not reverse roles and let your child brush yours? Then you can laugh a lot and show how much fun it is to be pampered.
  • Show how shiny: Make sure your kids see you brushing your own teeth, and then make a point of showing off your shiny, clean teeth. Ham it up! Make it seem like a privilege to have a bright smile. And, encourage your kids to show off their own smiles, once their teeth are clean.
  • Make a game of it: If you’re still brushing your child’s teeth, you can make a game of it. For example, you can pretend to find various “wild animals” in his or her mouth and chase them around with a toothbrush. Give lots of descriptive details about the animal’s colors or fur to make it more fun. (''Oh, I see a purple polka-dotted hippopotamus in the back! Open up so I can get it!'') Or tell them that the toothbrush is a “tooth tickler” and that you want to check to see which teeth might be ticklish. Anything that gets them to use their imagination will make tooth brushing seem more fun and less like a chore.
  • Give them more ways to participate: If your child is able, let him or her squeeze the paste onto the toothbrush before you start brushing. This gives them some sense of participating in the tooth brushing process. Be careful that you’re only using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste; you may need to scrape some of it off before you begin brushing if your child has squeezed too much out of the tube. Another way to let them participate is to print our MySmileKids calendar from our children’s web site and let them put stickers, gold stars or check marks each time they brush their teeth.
  • Take turns: Set an egg timer or other alarm and have your kids brush their teeth on their own for 30 seconds. Then you brush their teeth for 30 seconds. Repeat this at least twice, or go as long as your child will tolerate. When brushing at bedtime, it's important that you have the last turn. Saliva production slows down during the sleep cycle and can't wash away as much plaque. So it's important to make teeth as plaque-free as possible before going to sleep.
  • Call in reinforcements: If older children stubbornly neglect to brush or floss and reminders fall on seemingly uninterested ears, maybe it's time to change the messenger. Call the dental office before your child’s next checkup, and let the dentist know what's going on. The same motivational message might be heeded if it comes from a third party.

Children's teeth and gums can be sensitive, too, so a gentle touch will make them more comfortable. Make sure that they use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Running warm water over it before starting to brush will “soften up” the bristles. In addition, plaque is soft and is better removed by thorough but light brushing than by vigorous scrubbing, which can cause unwanted wear on teeth.

* The 2009 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey, conducted by Morpace, Inc. consisted of random 15-minute telephone interviews with nearly 1,000 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11 from around the country. Some information from the Delta Dental Plan Association.
Last updated: January 2010

The oral health information on this web site is intended for educational purposes only. You should always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.