Why Do Kids Refuse to Brush Their Teeth?

Plus some tips on how to get your kids excited about the task.

Do you ever feel like your nightly routine is a struggle, defined by begging, pleading and bribing your little ones to brush their teeth? For most parents, getting kids to brush their teeth can be like pulling teeth. Or, in other words, impossible. But luckily, parents whose kiddos have gone on strike from this healthy habit can rejoice: the experts say there are real reasons that kids hate brushing their teeth. We’ve also rounded up some tips on how to get your kids excited about the task.

Kids may have sensory issues

While many children dislike brushing their teeth, children with sensory issues may be especially resistant when it comes to this task. They may have hypersensitivity or either dislike the flavors or texture of the toothpaste or the feel and pressure of the bristles on their teeth.

Dr. Lynse Briney of the American Dental Association suggests trying various options for toothpaste flavors and brushes to see what works best for your child.

“The advent of Amazon makes it possible to work around some of those sensory issues,” she says. “You can find just about any flavor toothpaste, and even non-flavored toothpaste. There are also endless amounts of brush types.”

Briney suggests that when testing these options, start your child with a 10-second brush and increase gradually up to two minutes when they can tolerate the brush. If a child is still having trouble, she recommends working alongside other therapists kids may be seeing, such as an occupational therapist or school therapist, to come up with a combined solution.

Kids are naturally defiant

It is also important to note that kids hate to be told what to do and when to do it. Tooth brushing naturally falls into this category.

“As parents, we need to be consistent with tooth brushing like we are consistent with kids on having them shower or bathe regularly and change their clothes,” says Brinley, who is also the parent of an 8- and 11-year-old. “Parents should stress the importance on why kids should brush their teeth and give them options about when they want to do it. The important thing is it gets done.”

Tooth brushing hurts

Dr. Sam Blanchard, of Golnick Pediatric Dentistry and the upcoming president of the Michigan Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, says tooth brushing in school age children should not regularly be associated with pain.

“If it is, a trip to the dentist is warranted to rule out cavities or other problems that could be causing discomfort,” he says.

How to encourage kids to brush their teeth

When it comes to getting your kids to brush their teeth without a fight, some options include reading books about tooth brushing, regularly visiting the dentist and letting kiddos pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste. There are also a wealth of apps that turn toothbrushing into a game or song to make the task more exciting.

“A positive parental attitude regarding oral hygiene is also important,” says Blanchard. “If parents model consistent oral hygiene and build it into a child’s routine early, it is likely be to become a well-accepted part of the child’s self-care routine.”

The basics of brushing

Source: Michigan Dental Association

  • Brush for two minutes, two times a day.
  • Use a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste for kids ages 3-6, and use slightly more when they’re older.
  • Teach them to spit out the toothpaste when they’re done so they don’t swallow it.
  • Help your kids place the toothbrush at an angle against their gums.
  • Make sure they move the brush back and forth, gently, in short strokes.
  • Help them brush the front, back and top of teeth.
  • Teach them to brush their tongue to remove germs and freshen breath.

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