A mother and a daughter brushing teeth together in a bathroom

Helping a Child Who Doesn't Want To Brush Their Teeth

You’ve probably noticed your little ones are more likely to do chores when you turn them into fun, imaginative games they can play. Well, the same goes for teaching your kids to practice good oral hygiene. What may seem like a burden to your child can become something they get excited to do (or at least become willing to do) with a little imagination. If your toddler won't brush their teeth, we'll give you some tips and advice that will make you both smile.

Why Is It Important For Your Child To Brush Their Baby Teeth?

Some parents are under the false assumption that it's not a big deal if children don't brush their baby teeth twice a day. After all, they'll lose them anyway, right? But by not brushing now, your child can experience tooth decay, discomfort, pain, problems with eating and speaking, and it can affect the eruption of their permanent teeth. Not brushing at a young age can also set up a pattern of not brushing in the future.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay is one of the most common chronic conditions in kids, affecting about 20 percent of those between the ages of five and 11. If your child won't brush their teeth, there are a few ways you can establish this healthy habit.

How to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

  • Reward Good Habits
    Rewarding your child for practicing good oral hygiene can be effective, but the reward that works best will depend on your child's age and interests. They may be receptive to a funny bedtime story before lights out, watching a video, or staying up 30 minutes later than usual – but only after they brush their teeth.

You can even create a star chart for bigger, weekly, or monthly rewards. Each time your child brushes without being asked, morning and night, they get a star or sticker. Having earned a week's worth of stars, your child qualifies for a prize. If they make it to 10, offer something slightly better. If you have more than one child, it can turn into a friendly competition.

What's not a good reward for habits? Candy or sugary drinks that cause tooth decay should be avoided.

  • Make It Fun!
    You can also turn toothbrushing into a game and make it a fun experience. You may be wondering how that's possible, but that's just because you're a grown-up! Look at the world through kids' eyes, put on an upbeat song for two minutes (the recommended brushing time), and have a toothbrushing mini-dance party. Have your child freeze whenever you pause the song to make it even more hilarious!
  • Let Your Kid Pick the Products
    Walking down the oral care aisle of your local grocery store, you'll notice there are all sorts of colorful, kid-focused products with bright colors and popular cartoon characters. It might even look like a toy aisle to them. Bring your child to the store with you and let them pick out the products that excite them the most. You may be surprised how much it helps encourage them to care for their oral hygiene.
  • Make it a Routine
    Your child is more likely to pick up on good habits when you make them part of a routine. By having your child brush their teeth after breakfast every morning and before bed every night, they'll be doing it on their own in no time!
  • Check for Sensitivity
    Some toddlers don't want to brush their teeth simply because they don't think it's fun. Others, however, may not want to brush their teeth because there's an underlying issue. If your child has sensitive teeth, that can make practicing good oral hygiene particularly unpleasant. Ask your child if they're experiencing pain when they brush their teeth and if they are, speak to your child's dental professional about the issue.
  • Oral Hygiene at School
    If your child is in preschool or elementary school, ask if they have kids brush their teeth after lunch. If they don't, recommend that they work it into their schedule. It's good for their oral hygiene, it's a learning experience, and when your child sees other kids doing it – they may start to think oral hygiene is even cool!
  • A Note From the Tooth Fairy
    Kids love getting money from the tooth fairy. If your child refuses to brush their teeth, place a note on the bathroom mirror from the tooth fairy informing them that there's no payment for teeth that haven't been properly brushed. And the tooth fairy knows EVERYTHING.

No matter the reason for your child's resistance to oral care, remember that a large part of passing along good habits to your child is practicing good habits yourself. Brush at least twice a day, and don't forget to brush your tongue. Clean between your teeth with interdental brushes or water flossers at least once a day. Consider using other helpful products like an antimicrobial mouthrinse and a tongue scraper. And visit your dental professional for regular checkups. When your child sees you prioritizing healthy habits (especially if you make it fun), they're more likely to do the same. That's something you can both smile about.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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