5 Tips to Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

Remember the part in the John Candy movie Uncle Buck when Buck threatens to do a DNA test on Miles and Maizy’s toothbrushes to make sure they actually brushed their teeth? Do you ever find yourself threatening that with your own kids?

“Brushing teeth is a hygiene issue, like washing your hair, or taking a bath or cutting your nails,” Dr. Richard Abrams, of Little Britches Pediatric Dentistry in Longmont, Colorado, tells Family First. “We say, ‘don’t trust kids to brush on their own until they can write cursive.'”


So instead of making it a chore for Mom or Dad to regulate every day, Dr. Abrams (known as “Dr. A” to his patients) has some fantastic suggestions for making brushing fun for kids to encourage them to keep brushing, and do a good job when they do brush.

1.  Incredible Toothbrushes – Dr. A is a big fan of motorized toothbrushes because it makes doing a good job brushing so easy and the spinning head is fascinating for kids. He mentioned one brand of toothbrush that flashes for one minute when you turn it on, and then you know how long you’ve been brushing. Plus, when kids have a fun toothbrush, they’re extra proud to use it.

2.  Kid-Friendly Toothpaste – Having toothpaste that tastes good and does a good job protecting teeth is a double benefit. He likes Tom’s of Maine because it uses natural ingredients and has great flavors like strawberry, grape and orange mango. He also likes Tanner’s Tasty Paste which was developed by a dentist, Dr. Janelle Holden, uses natural ingredients and has two amazing flavors Cha Cha Chocolate and Banilla Bling. Banilla Bling is temporarily out of stock but it’s so popular with his patients, he actually has a list of kids to call when it does come back in! (Note: the doc has no financial interest in either of these companies.)

3.  A Toothbrushing/flossing Chart – Dr. A mentioned using a toothbrushing/flossing chart to track progress each week. At the end of the week, he suggested some sort of small reward like a movie rental. At the end of the month, his patients can bring the chart in to his office and he gives them an extra trip to the toy machine. He said you’d be amazed at how old the kids are who bring in their charts but the staff never laughs – it’s a great thing!  You can download a toothbrushing chart from the Little Britches website  here. 

4.  A Timer – This is also a great tool for getting kids to brush longer. While the doc prefers at least 3 minutes (!) of brushing, he said if kids do 1 minute for the top and 1 minute for the bottom, that’s good too.

5.  Disclose tablets –  These can offer a great game for kids. Chewing disclose tablets shows you where the plaque is on your teeth. Kids can either chew the tablets before brushing and then challenge themselves to get the dye off, or they can brush and then chew the tablets to check and see if they did a good job. If you can’t find disclose tablets, grocery stores also offer plaque-finding mouthwash to rinse with.

Besides brushing, Dr. A is a huge fan of flossing. “I don’t care how they get that piece of string into their teeth” he says of using the little flossers versus a traditional piece of floss. He mentioned studies that suggest regular flossing over a person’s lifetime can expand life expectancy by 5-7 years! How about that for 30 seconds of flossing per day? When we brush, he said, we only hit 3 of the 5 surfaces of the teeth. By flossing, you can then hit the other two surfaces that don’t get brushed.

He also likes rinse agents such as ACT or Listerine because it’s an extra dose of fluoride, plus rinsing for kids means “they get to spit legally,” he says. The ceremony of swishing and spitting can be fun for a kid too.  If your child is too young to understanding rinsing without swallowing, try brushing the rinse on with their toothbrush. They’ll like the flavor and probably want more. I tried this trick with my 2-year-old last night and he wanted to keep dipping his brush in the Dixie cup for more rinse.

Interesting side note: the fluoride in our drinking water is different than that in toothpaste and rinsing agents. Fluoride in water doesn’t do anything for already-formed teeth – it just helps strengthen a baby’s developing teeth, according to Dr. A.

Dr. A says parents should have a toothbrush in a child’s hand as soon as teeth appear to get them in the habit of brushing. He said you can use it as a lesson for learning how to share. “I’m going to brush first tonight and then you next,” is a dialog he suggested having with young ones.  He said it’s safe to start using fluoridated toothpaste once a child gets molars or when a kid has 12 teeth.  For kids this young, you should be using paste “the size of half a lentil” as the right amount on the toothbrush.  Dr. A said don’t worry about overdosing on fluoride. A child would need to eat an entire tube of toothpaste to be in danger.


He said the most challenging group for brushing in his practice is the teenage patients. Because teens drink so much soda and sports drinks which are both full of sugar, they are at extra risk for tooth decay. Bacteria on the teeth metabolizes sugar, creating acid which then demineralizes teeth. Combo that with not brushing and you get lots of cavities from this group. His tricks from above may not work with the teen crowd – maybe you’ll have to take away their car keys?

To learn more about Dr. A and his practice, check out the Little Britches website  and if you have questions for the doc, you can email him at [email protected] and he can answer them here in future posts.

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