Getting kids to brush their teeth can be like pulling teeth. So how do you make polishing those pearly whites less of a chore — for both of you? “The key to good oral hygiene is to start young and make it fun,” says Judith Post, D.D.S., a dentist in Bloomfield, N.J., adding that it takes just two minutes, twice a day, to build the brushing habit.
Here’s how to make the most of those two minutes for a hassle-free nightly ritual and a healthy, shiny smile for a lifetime.
Kid Teeth-brushing Tip No. 1: Time it right. Instead of brushing just before bed, have your child brush right after dinner or before a favorite television show or story time. “Kids can get really tired at night,” says Post. “Right after dinner, they’re more awake and agreeable, and will probably do a better job.” Just pick a time slot and keep it consistent to solidify the routine: dinner, dessert, brush teeth, Elmo.
Kid Teeth-brushing Tip No. 2: Choose cool tools. Kids will be more invested in the process when you let them pick out the brush of their choice. “There are so many options for little kids now,” says Post. She’s in favor of the toothbrushes that look like crayons or superheroes, ones that light up, that play music — any gimmick that makes kids look forward to brushing. For some kids, electric toothbrushes and Waterpik products are high-tech toys that up the fun factor.
Kid Teeth-brushing Tip No. 3: Pick the right paste. Kids can be sensitive to the strong mint flavor of adult toothpastes, so let them pick one in wild boo-berry or bubble gum made for children. Some kids can get excited about swooshing and gargling with a children’s fluoride rinse, especially ones that feature their favorite TV stars. (Just wait till they’re at least 6 and are able to spit out the rinse.)
Kid Teeth-brushing Tip No. 4: Do it together. “The same way kids look forward to reading a story with you, they’ll look forward to brushing with you,” says Post. Do a thorough job when you brush, and don’t forget to floss, to set a good example. “Just like a little kid will pretend to shave with his father, so he’ll want to brush just like Daddy and Mommy do too,” she says.
Kid Teeth-brushing Tip No. 5: Make it a game. Make “eeh” and “aah” noises while brushing, or count the teeth aloud as you brush. Finish with “Time to tickle the tongue!” to make the important step of brushing your child’s tongue more silly and fun. You can even play “Tooth Detective” to look for any leftover plaque. (If you have older kids, try playing their favorite song and challenging them to brush and floss to the beat.)
Kid Teeth-brushing Tip No. 6: Stay positive. Instead of using threats — “Your teeth will rot,” “You’ll have dragon breath” — focus on the upside of oral hygiene. Praise your child after brushing for teeth that look so shiny and sparkly. Marvel that her breath is so fresh! “Make your child feel good about having a healthy mouth,” says Post, “and she’ll want to keep up the good work.”