Teeth and how to get the kids to brush theirs

Encouraging tamariki to brush their teeth

Key points about encouraging children to brush their teeth

  • The last thing any parent wants is a battle with their child to brush their teeth – especially at the end of a long day. But there are things you can do to make it more fun and encourage good tooth cleaning habits.
  • It’s important to look after your child’s teeth, even before they appear, so they don’t develop tooth decay. Healthy baby teeth are needed for chewing and proper speech development.
  • Part of that is making sure your children's teeth are brushed at least twice a day, as well as having a healthy diet that’s low in sugar and having regular check-ups with the dentist.
  • So, what if your child refuses to brush their teeth and won’t let you near them? Here are some ideas. 
Family brushing their teeth together
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Here are some top tips to help you overcome a tooth-brushing resistant child:

Happy toddler brushing her teeth
Image credit: Canva

1. Get started early

You don't even have to wait for the first tooth to emerge to get started on good tooth cleaning habits. You can rub your baby's gums (with a soft wet cloth, or a silicone finger brush) to wipe away bacteria and get them used to having their gums brushed. They may like it when those first teeth are coming through and making gums tender. Start cleaning your baby’s teeth with a soft toothbrush as soon as they start to show, usually at around 6 months of age, so they get used to the feeling (and to prevent tooth decay). Special toothbrushes for babies are available. 

2. Use a gentle approach

Try not to use punishments, threats or rewards to get your child to brush their teeth. A gentle parenting approach centres around respecting your child and helping them develop good habits because it’s the right thing to do. Teach them about why it's important to clean teeth and gums and they'll be well set up for good dental hygiene in the future. 

3. Have a set routine

Have a set routine in the morning and evening that incorporates tooth brushing so that it becomes a normal part of your day that you don’t change. For example, in the evening, your child gets into their pyjamas, brushes their teeth, then has a goodnight story. 

Children learn by example so maybe you could brush your own teeth while they brush theirs in the mornings after breakfast. 

4. Let them choose their toothbrush

Let your child feel like they have some control and autonomy by letting them choose their own age-appropriate toothbrush. There are lots of cool ones to choose from. You can get electric toothbrushes for tamariki which may be more attractive and make toothbrushing more fun, but make sure they use it properly. If they don’t like the taste of the toothpaste, let them choose a different age-appropriate one. Children's toothpastes often have a milder flavour. 

5. Let them practice on a toy

Give them a spare toothbrush to practise brushing their doll or teddy’s teeth.

6. Have a special song

Try having a special song that is only sung when your child lets you brush their teeth. If you find a song that takes a couple of minutes to sing, when you've finished you will know you've been brushing their teeth for the right amount of time. 

7. Make it fun

Making it a game can be fun, eg, counting all their teeth as you brush them, seeing what shapes they can see in their toothpaste spit or playing some music to brush in time with.

8. Read stories about dental health

See if your local library or bookshop has any books about dental hygiene that are aimed at kids so they understand the importance of looking after their teeth.

9. Let them brush your teeth

You could try allowing your child to gently brush your own teeth for a bit before you have a turn doing theirs.

10. Let them do their own for a bit

Similarly, you could let them do their own for a bit before you do it for them.

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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