Not a day goes by when I have a worried parent asking me how to get their child brushing their teeth. They say they’ve tried everything but nothing seems to work. They have run out of ideas and now they don’t know what to do.

Firstly,  I ask the child how many times a day they brush their teeth and how long. Many children are aware that they should brush twice daily for 2 minutes but most of them admit to brushing in the morning only. I would then emphasise the importance of brushing last thing at night and at least one more time during the day. I  would then ask, why they do not brush. Most of them answer “I can’t be bothered” or ” I want to spend more time playing”.  I would then ask the child, what would motivate them to brush their teeth, most of them don’t know, others want a electric toothbrush Depending on the answers they give, I customise the advise. Here are 5 tips below:

  1. Use disclosing tablets. As the instructions recommends, children under 12 must be supervised.  It recommends you brush as normal, chew the tablet, then brush the areas highlighted. This study here shows how using disclosing tablets helps improve plaque removal and increases motivation.
  2. Use an electric tooth brush. Some parents worry that their child may be too young for electric toothbrushes, but the Oral B Stages power toothbrush manual advises that it is suitable for children 3 years or older. This study here shows how powered tooth brushes are more effective than manual toothbrushes at removing plaque. Children under the age of 7 years should be supervised by a parent/carer when brushing.
  3. Download the Brush DJ app. When I advise to get their smart phone out and download an app, most children get excited. This app is the only evidence based, free, NHS approved app to motivate good oral hygiene. Click here for the study.
  4. Reward charts. There are several reward charts that can be printed from on-line.  This is great as it can be customised with the child’s name on top. Colgate also has a reward chart that can also be printed for free, just click here.
  5. Change toothpaste. Some children do not like the taste of the mint or find it too strong. Parents can be advised to change to different flavours such as Oral B Bubble gum or Tesco’s own Kids Strawberry (both found in Delivering Better Oral: an evidence based tool kit for prevention pages 24 and 25). The child is also encouraged to spit after brushing and not to rinse, to maintain the fluoride concentration levels.

There are other ways to encourage children to brush such as singing a brushing song, brushing with a stuffed animal. Also, encouraging parents to speak to their child about the importance of brushing teeth is helpful. Generally, I advise parents to motivate their child by making brushing as fun as possible, and try not to nag or get into a fight with them. As long as the methods used to encourage brushing is positive,  this will help the child get into a good habit.

If you have any other suggestions, please add it in comments.

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