How to Get Your Kids to Brush Their Teeth Better
The team at Jeffrey Kwong Orthodontics is well aware of how hard it can be to get kids to engage in healthy habits. Hey, I’m not just an El Dorado Hills orthodontist; I’m also a father of two young boys, so I know what it’s like to wrestle and brush teeth at the same time. While we can’t help you get your little ones to eat their green veggies, my team and I do have some knowledge when it comes to encouraging kids and teens to brush their teeth the right way.
Using the proper technique, and brushing for a full two minutes at least twice daily, is super important. If your child is undergoing orthodontic treatment, it’s even more crucial, and they’ll want to brush their teeth with braces or before putting in their Invisalign® Teen aligners in the morning, after meals and snacks, and before bed. You definitely don’t want to invest in straightening their teeth and then have the results diminished by cavities, stains, gum disease, or, in severe cases, tooth loss.
Well, my team and I are here to the rescue with 10 ideas for teaching your kids how to brush their teeth better:
Ensure You’re a Brushing Pro
Before you can pass on the specifics of how to brush your teeth for kids, make sure you have impeccable technique yourself. The Mayo Clinic has a nice refresher on brushing basics. If your little one or teen is in the midst of orthodontic treatment, check out our instructions for how to brush your teeth with braces, so you can advise them on how to do it correctly. They’ll need to brush the front, back, sides and chewing surface of each tooth, as well as in between and under the wires and brackets, around the gum line, the roof of the mouth, and the tongue.
Uncover the Plaque
One of the biggest problems I see when it comes to kids brushing their teeth is plaque still left on the pearly whites, especially by the gum line, even after brushing has been finished. While the best toothpaste for braces is any non-abrasive, fluoride toothpaste, options like PLAQUE HD® Professional with plaque-identifying Targetol Technology® can be particularly helpful.
The toothpaste shows patients where they missed when brushing their teeth by turning plaque a different color (remember those pink tabs we would chew at the Dentist’s office?). This way they can reach every nook and cranny even when wearing braces to fight cavities and keep their gums healthy. It’s like having secret spy glasses that show you exactly where you need help.
Plus, by getting into the habit of maneuvering the toothbrush to get rid of the colorful visual evidence of plaque, kids learn the right way to brush their teeth, and good technique becomes second nature. This has been very helpful for both my boys because they instantly know when they’ve done a good job brushing, and where they need to “brush up.”
Use the Right Toothbrush
Keeping teeth free of food and plaque is more about the technique and less about the toothbrush; however, certain brushes can make maintaining oral hygiene easier. The best toothbrush for braces is one with a smaller head to fit in those hard-to-reach spots between the brackets and wires. At our office, we have awesome toothbrushes for braces-wearers with two rows of brushes to help fit in between the braces and gums.
Hard-bristle brushes can be rough on the enamel and gums and make already sensitive teeth more uncomfortable, so try a soft-bristled brush. Electric toothbrushes are really great for getting teeth sparkling clean, but we know they can be expensive. However, if it’s in your budget, there are some with orthodontic-friendly brush heads.
For tiny tots, fun children’s toothbrushes with characters and bright colors are the way to go. Letting your kiddo pick their own toothbrush will make brushing even more exciting for them.
Create the Right Environment
Brushing should always be done in front of a mirror. It’s important that your child or teen can see their teeth while they are brushing, so they may need a step stool to get the right height.
Another part of my advice for creating the right environment is to make funny faces in the mirror. You want to see both the gums and the teeth, so have your child use their free hand to pull their lips out of the way, make a growling face or the biggest smile they can, and watch to make sure their toothbrush reaches right up to the gums on both the top and bottom teeth.
Set a Timer
How long should kids brush their teeth? As we mentioned in this article, and as we’re sure you’ve heard a million times from your own dentist, every time your child brushes his or her teeth, they should be doing it for two whole minutes. Keeping a timer in the bathroom can be a huge help. Often, even as adults, we’re pretty bad at gauging time.
If you want to make it even more exciting, there are free tooth brushing timer apps you can download like the Disney Magic Timer App by Oral-B. The app not only times the brushing session, but also adds a little fun to the process. Or, if your child or teen enjoys music, find a song that’s approximately two minutes in length and have them brush until it ends.
Keep a Brushing Chart
For our younger kiddos, keeping track of your kid’s teeth brushing sessions with a brushing chart allows them to see a visual representation of their progress. Using stickers to mark off the days always gives younger ones a thrill. They’ll feel proud when they see the stickers add up, which helps to encourage good lifelong oral habits.
Create a Rewards System
If your kid reaches a predetermined milestone, like brushing for two minutes twice a day for a full month, some positive reinforcement with a rewards system couldn’t hurt. The prizes don’t have to cost anything. It could even be something like getting to choose the next family activity or picking a movie to watch.
What about sweet treats or candy you can eat with braces? While, yes, there is candy you can eat with braces, considering we’re in the business of healthy smiles and healthy teeth here, my team and I recommend staying away from sugary treats as a prize.
Serve as a Good Example
Allowing young kids to see you brush your teeth the right way, particularly when they’re at the age where they want to be just like mom and dad, is extremely effective. Talk them through what you’re doing and once they have the hang of it, brush your teeth together.
Turn Brushing into a Game
Adding an element of competition can make brushing teeth for kids seem less like a chore. Simply telling a kid, “I bet you can’t brush your teeth as good as I can,” is a surefire way to motivate them. Another idea? Pretend they’re on a tooth brushing game show and if they brush well and make it the full two minutes, they win. Get creative!
Demonstrate Proper Technique
Show kids how to brush their teeth correctly on a doll or toy. If you’re feeling crafty, create your own fake tooth to brush. Once you’ve given them a primer, hand them the toothbrush and let them have a turn being the dentist.
If All Else Fails, Enlist the Help of Your Dentist or Orthodontist
If, after trying these tips for how to get your kids to brush better, you’re still struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s dental hygienist or dentist to walk your little one through brushing their teeth correctly. Additionally, have your child or teen pay attention to the technique that’s used during their cleaning.
If your child can’t seem to get the hang of how to brush their teeth with braces, get their orthodontist in on the action, too. I’ll be more than happy to give your child guidance on good oral hygiene with braces, whether it’s showing them the correct brushing or flossing technique, or providing recommendations for things like the best mouthwash for braces.
Hopefully these tips for getting your kids to brush their teeth better will lead to some sparkling, clean smiles. I’m always happy to offer pointers to my patients and the community at my El Dorado Hills, CA orthodontic office to ensure their oral health stays on track throughout their treatment and beyond.
Jeffrey Kwong Orthodontics is also a proud provider of PLAQUE HD®. The plaque-identifying toothpaste is a seriously awesome breakthrough in dentistry and orthodontics and is extremely effective in encouraging proper brushing techniques. It’s especially helpful for brushing teeth with braces because the areas obscured by brackets and wires tend to get neglected. Ask about the product at your next appointment.
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