Getting Children To Brush Their Teeth

Getting Children To Brush Their Teeth

Date: 24 Oct 2019

Our Graphic Designer, Diane Field, tells her story on children’s tooth brushing and shares some simple tips to support you with the process.

With Halloween fresh on our mind and the festive season ahead, there is bound to be plenty of sugary treats circulating. While the idea of unlimited sweets is exciting for children, you may just be thinking…“cavities!”

But the topic of brushing teeth shouldn’t have to hit a nerve. My children, Oliver (11) and Eydie (8) are now old enough to know how to best care for their teeth, so here is a breakdown of the stages you may expect from my experience:

  1. Start ‘Pearly’
  2. My first child, Oliver, loved to gnaw on things out of curiosity as a baby and toddler. I took this as a great opportunity to let him hold onto a toothbrush that he could handle and chew. He could then use this time to become accustomed with holding a toothbrush and feel as familiar with it as possible.

    Though my younger daughter, Eydie, didn’t have the same habit, she has always looked up to her older brother. So by encouraging my son to use a toothbrush, she in turn picked up the positive behaviour from him. I found this to be a great method to use, as it helped spread the familiarity of toothbrushes through the natural imitation that comes with sibling role modelling.

  3. Growing Pains
  4. After my children had become used to a toothbrush, I began brushing their teeth with a soft bristled brush—at first without toothpaste—just to demonstrate the process. I then introduced toothpaste as their teeth started coming through. For me this was a great next step in showing them how to brush—in gentle circular motions.

    The toothpaste I used was the kind designed for milk teeth, which should be clearly visible on the label. I found this to be very helpful as they not only are child friendly, but they are usually either less strong in their mint flavour or come in more palatable flavours—like mixed fruits—that the little ones will love.

  5. No Pain, All Game
  6. Any parent will know the struggle of making sure their child brushes their teeth!

    To help combat this I turned these times of the day into fun games. I would brush my teeth at the same time as my children and ask “who can brush their teeth the longest?” (Which with siblings gets very competitive!). I would also use a timer and set it for two minutes, so I knew my children would meet the minimum amount of time that is recommended for tooth brushing.

    I found this to be a great tool to turn a chore into something my children could engage with, all the while creating a few laughs along the way.

  7. Crunch Time
  8. As my children got older, they had enough time to develop the routine of brushing their teeth as a part of their other morning and evening preparation e.g. have a shower, get dressed, brush teeth. This is especially important as children tend to feel more comfortable with an established habits.

    To support this, I also took my children to the dentist for regular check up’s. Once I found a dentist that was friendly and was great with my children, I always tried to rebook appointments with them consistently. Because just as us adults like having one family GP, children draw comfort from having a familiar dentist they can trust with such a personal health check.

    The other clear benefit of having your children visit a dentist regularly is to seek personal advice. In the case of my children, one had strong enamel while the other had weaker enamel. This meant they were more prone to cavities, but it was with the help of our dentist that we could identify the problem and be given advice on how it could be managed.

  9. The Bridge Ahead
  10. Now that my children are older, they are well educated on how to best maintain their dental hygiene…But this doesn’t stop them from trying to avoid it!

    To make sure they are still on track as they are approach their teens, it has always been helpful for me to check in on them while they are brushing their teeth on occasion.

    Another option is the use of plaque disclosure tablets. These are essentially tablets that contain a harmless dye that reveal areas on teeth that have a build-up of plaque. These not only help show where your child might be missing those hard to reach areas with brushes and flossing like the molars, but it can create a lot of colourful mess that the children love! If you’re are unsure how to use these then just follow recommended instructions on the packaging.

If you’re still worried on how to approach the topic of tooth brushing with your children, here are my 5 top tips:

  • Let your child pick out their own toothbrush so they can have better ownership over the process.
  • Make teeth brushing time a game whenever possible to make it feel less like a chore.
  • Give your child enough space for them to brush themselves, but follow up when possible to verify that it’s being done thoroughly.
  • Book your child in for a visit to the dentist from early age, and when you find the perfect dental hygienist for your family, keep them!
  • Every child is different! Some things may work, while others may not—especially if your child loves to mix things up.


It’s okay to feel unsure how to best teach your child about good dental health. However it’s important for you to know that you are not alone in the process. Our staff are always happy to help, so please have a chat with the Nursery Manager at your local Bright Horizons nursery for support on building positive dental hygiene habits.

If you would like further resources on the topic of taking care of children’s teeth, please visit www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/taking-care-of-childrens-teeth