When a Child Refuses to Brush their Teeth: Ways to get them brushing

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, near-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.

7 min read

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.

Pediatric dentists suggest trying various options for toothpaste flavors and brushes to see what works best for your child. You can find just about any flavor toothpaste, and even non-flavored toothpaste. There are also endless amounts of brush types.

They also suggest 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, they recommend working alongside other therapists’ kids may be seeing, such as an occupational therapist to come up with a combined solution.


Let your toddler pick the supplies. Take your tot to the store and let him choose his own brush and toothpaste with fluoride. A colorful character on the brush’s handle may not inspire you, but it might make all the difference in coaxing a toddler to brush his teeth. Let him pick the toothpaste too, so that he’s sure to like the flavour, using a rice-sized amount of toothpaste for kids under 3 and a pea-sized amount for kids 3 to 6, to reduce the risk of fluorosis (white lines caused by too much fluoride).

Lower your expectations. Your child probably won’t be cleaning the gum lines or reaching into tiny crevices just yet. Don’t sweat it. These early lessons are as much about instilling the habit as they are about technique. The more practice he gets, the faster he’ll improve.

Take turns. If you’re really worried that your toddler’s teeth aren’t getting properly cleaned while he’s learning to take the reins, let him do the morning brushing session while you handle the evening one. That way, he’ll get practice brushing on his own in the a.m., but he’ll also get a reminder of your technique in the p.m. Nighttime is also a good opportunity for you to get him used to flossing once a day before brushing (unlike brushing, flossing is something you’ll want to do for him at this point).

Brush along with him. Join your toddler while he brushes his teeth: a little camaraderie might encourage him to take a little longer for a more thorough cleaning. Try stepping it up a notch by setting up a competition (Who can brush every tooth first?).

Take a spin. Consider giving your child a battery-powered spin toothbrush. The novelty might coerce teeth brushing. Plus, there are some toothbrushes that play a song until it’s time to stop, or signal that two minutes are up by making a noise, encouraging your child to practice patience and get the job done right.

Find an ally. Ask the dentist to praise your child for brushing his teeth himself. Getting the thumbs-up from an authority in a white jacket might encourage your toddler to soldier on.

Getting your child to brush his teeth might not be the easiest habit to instill, but hopefully, these tips will get him started on a habit that will set him up for lifelong dental health.


•    Topic: Get kids brush their teeth By Anne Holden, DDM
•    Chicago dental society Journal May 2020

About The Writer



Dr. is the dental and oral healthcare expert of Wyeth Nutrition parenTeam. Having run a private clinic for more than 20 years now, Dr. Joycelyn Esguerra has developed an expertise in orthodontics, TMJ orthopedics, cosmetic dentistry, and biological dentistry. As a dentist, her work has included educating patients on oral care, assessing teeth and diagnosing patients' dental conditions, evaluating treatment options and providing treatment plans to patients, and carrying out clinical treatments such as restoring teeth affected by decay and treating gum disease.

Dr. Esguerra received her degree of Doctor of Dental of Medicine from the College of Dentistry at the University of the East in Manila. She also completed a 6-month long comprehensive preceptorship program on Functional Jaw Orthopedics and TMJ Dentistry at the TMJ Integrative Dentistry Academy of the Philippines.

An active member of the medical community, she has served the Mandaluyong City Dental Chapter in various roles, including President, Executive Vice President, and Board of Director. Dr. Esguerra is also part of the Philippine Dental Association (PDA) and the TMJ Integrative Academy of the Philippines.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.


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