How To Get Kids to Brush Their Teeth

How do you get kids to brush their teeth? They don’t come with a manual, sadly. And while some aspects of raising children we are happy to freestyle – watching them choose their favourite toys, making up their own stories, dancing like little crazy fairies, for example – there are other skills they need that we need to instruct them on. Showing them how to master cutlery, how to make the leap from nappies to weeing in all the right places and to wipe ‘front to back’, and how to get kids to brush their teeth.

Where did it all go wrong?

Spaghetti Legs got his first tooth the day he turned 5 months old, so he was a fairly young baby when he was first introduced to a toothbrush. He sucked it, chewed it, giggled and babbled at its ticklyness. He was at first quite responsive to bringing toothpaste into the mix, too. And then…

And then we hit the same wall that we hit with broccoli, with having hair washed, and with the rather inconvenient aversion to baby wipes (believe me, my willingness to carry around pre-dampened flannels was very short lived).

This, in turn, became a reluctance to brush his teeth at all.

So, knowing that one cannot go through life avoiding toothpaste (even if you can successfully avoid broccoli) I tried different flavours, different toothbrushes, and different techniques. The pear flavoured organic toothpaste didn’t go down well, but the My Little Pony toothpaste with questionable dental qualifications was a hit (a pink, sticky, hit).

The breakthrough

More recently I’ve tempted him back to oral hygiene by appealing to his sense of pride – he got his very first (battery operated) electric toothbrush. The good people at Colgate helped a mother out and sent us the Minions toothbrush and toothpaste and he really began to turn a corner. The range is designed to encourage kids to brush their teeth and establish good teeth cleaning habits, and since he loved the Minions Movie and this year’s release of Despicable Me 3, Spaghetti Legs was suitably excited by his new kit.

They even have talking toothbrushes (what next, driverless cars?!) that gadget mad kids like mine will love.

So armed with a new found confidence and belief that I am a miracle-worker, here’s my top tips on how to get kids to brush their teeth:

  • let them choose their own toothbrush but make sure it’s suitable for their age range and from a reputable manufacturer
  • if they find minty flavours a bit strong, try a milder flavour like Colgate Bubble Fruit
  • let them see you brushing your teeth at the same time; let them see how long you spend cleaning your teeth and let them copy your brushing, spitting out, and rinsing
  • check out the advice and videos from industry experts like the kids section of the Colgate website 
  • for kids who won’t even try or are really struggling, try sitting them on your knee to brush their teeth for them. Talk to them about where they can feel the brush going in their mouths – so they know what they should be feeling when they do it themselves
  • if you’re taking the lead on tooth brushing then still encourage them to do some aspects themselves – rinsing out, brushing their tongue, rinsing the toothbrush and putting it back in its holder
  • consider doing this part of the bedtime routine earlier if they are less responsive when tired – we found before bath and book worked best for us before he got too tired to to cooperate
  • try a reward chart if your kid responds well to praise. I got one off Amazon for a couple of quid which I taped to the bathroom door and he buzzed off getting a sticker every time he brushed his teeth
  • try and remember body language, tone, and getting down to kids’ level so that they don’t associate toothbrush time with grown ups’ impatience, frustration, or disapproval. Something I have to remind myself about twice a day!
  • make it fun with rhymes and songs. For very young children the Tombliboos rhyme from In The Night Garden is easy to remember: “Round the back and underneath, that’s the way we brush our teeth”. We love the ‘Brush Brush Brush’ song by Of Montreal from one of our favourite shows Yo Gabba Gabba!

And last but not least, don’t panic! While I’m pretty sure I’ve met one or two grown ups in my lifetime who definitely don’t brush their teeth, it’s safe to say that as long as they’re able to, your child will get the hang of it eventually! Trust me, if I can crack it (kind of) then so can you.


I also tried out some fab oral health products for grown ups which you can read about here: Oh My Gob: Teeth Whitening & Fresh Breath

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