How to Get Kids to Enjoy Brushing Their Teeth

How to Get Kids to Enjoy Brushing Their Teeth
Natalie Archer Dentist Toronto, Ontario

Dr. Natalie Archer is a dynamic Toronto Dentist who began her dental career in 2001. She brings a diverse background of experience, energy and training to dentistry at both her Rosedale Family Dental Care practice and her newest dental clinic, the Runnymede Dental Centre. Natalie is passionate about giving back and delivering... more

While brushing your teeth is one of the most important parts of maintaining good oral health, it’s not a particularly exciting experience for most people. It becomes even less pleasant when you’re a kid. 

So how can we make brushing fun? And more importantly, how can we make sure our kids understand the importance of brushing? 

Start by making the process as enjoyable as possible. Let your kids try out as many flavors of toothpaste as they want until they find a favorite. As tempting as it might be to roll your eyes at light-up toothbrushes with singing Disney characters on them, it might be exactly the thing your child needs to finally embrace brushing their teeth.

It’s also important to make sure your child is brushing their teeth properly. Are they spending enough time on all of their teeth? Are they massaging their gums as they brush? What about their tongues? Brushing your teeth effectively makes all the difference, and the earlier your child knows exactly how (and how long) they should be brushing their teeth for, the better.

Lastly, make sure your child understands why brushing their teeth twice a day is so important. Teach them about plaque and gingivitis and cavity prevention. Did you know that about 75% of adults 60 years of age and older only have some of their original teeth? Give your kids a reason to want to keep all of their teeth for as long possible!

If your child still seems resistant to brushing regularly, ask them why. It could just be impatience or boredom, but in some cases, your child’s hesitance to brush regularly could be a sign of an underlying problem.

Some kids don’t like brushing because it hurts. If that’s the case for your child, it’s important to book an appointment with their dentist as soon as possible. While it could be something as simple as a cavity, it could also be an issue that requires a more detailed treatment plan.

Here are some common pediatric dental issues that might be causing your child’s reluctance to brush their teeth: 

Tooth Decay - This is one of the most common afflictions affecting children and adults alike and it’s often the source of oral discomfort (especially if your child’s tooth decay has reached the cavity stage). One of the best ways to prevent tooth decay is through tooth brushing, but your child may be avoiding brushing their teeth because it hurts. It’s a frustrating cycle for parents to break but ultimately provides you with a great chance to teach your child about the prevention of future decay.

Over-Retained Primary Teeth - We all have two sets of teeth - our primary teeth, and later our permanent adult teeth. Typically the primary teeth will fall out and new, adult teeth will grow into their place instead, but in some cases, the new adult tooth will try to push through while the primary tooth is still sitting in the socket. This is understandably a significant cause of pain for a child and could easily lead to the avoidance of brushing.

Gingivitis (Gum Disease) - Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums that, if left untreated, can eventually lead to tooth loss and bone damage. Gingivitis affects adults and children alike and can cause pain and discomfort when flossing and brushing.

Wisdom Teeth - While some kids are lucky enough to never have to deal with the pain of their wisdom teeth coming in, most will deal with some form of discomfort and pain where their wisdom teeth are concerned. If your child has pain in the back of their mouth or jaw, it could be a sign that their wisdom teeth are coming in improperly or have not fully erupted. Either way, it can be a serious cause of tooth brush avoidance and you should take your child to their dentist as soon as possible.

Pain Due to Tooth Grinding - If you’ve ever heard the sound produced by tooth grinding, then you know it’s comparable to that of two ceramic plates being loudly and aggressively rubbed against each other. Many children grind their teeth in their sleep without even realizing it. Often the only sign is pain or discomfort in the jaw during their waking hours.

Thumb Sucking - There’s a caveat here that thumb sucking is usually only a problem if it continues after the permanent teeth come in. Thumb sucking in children who have already lost all of their primary teeth can negatively affect the development of their permanent teeth. 

Tooth Sensitivity - Sensitivity of any kind can be unpleasant so it’s not hard to see why it would be especially difficult for children to handle and manage. If brushing or flossing the teeth causes pain and discomfort, it’s only natural that your child would want to avoid experiencing those particular sensations. Unfortunately, avoiding tooth brushing only leads to tooth decay and other negative oral health problems. There are plenty of things you can try to help your child get comfortable with brushing again, from special toothpastes and toothbrushes to guided demonstrations from their dentist about how to brush effectively. 

Canker Sores - Canker sores are a nuisance no matter how old you are, but especially for children who are often already dubious of brushing their teeth regularly. A canker sore (also known as an aphthous ulcer) is a small, often recurring sore that tends to linger in the mouth for a week or two. The sore is often painful to the touch and can be irritated by any kind of acidic food or drink (orange juice and tomatoes, for instance).

As frustrating as it can be to make brushing fun for your kids, it’s a lesson that will serve them well and will ultimately result in them keeping all of their teeth well into adulthood and (hopefully) beyond. 

This is why you have to talk to your child and try to understand why they don’t want to brush their teeth. It could be something as simple as, “I don’t like how the toothpaste tastes,” but it could also be indicative of a deeper, underlying problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.