How to Get Your Kids to Brush and Floss

It’s a struggle familiar to many parents: getting children to brush their teeth-and floss them, too. Here’s how to get them going.

When it comes to dental care, many children give the task the brush off. They just don’t brush and floss often enough, properly or willingly, say dentists. And parents can use improper tactics to get results. “Some get their kids to brush by bribing them with candy-completely counter-productive,” says Dr. Sarah Hulland, a Calgary pediatric dentist. Consider these strategies instead.

Start Early

Brushing and flossing should be a habit, not something you have to force kids to do. So start the habit early. Even before children have teeth, parents should wipe their gums, using a clean face cloth, gauze or a finger-worn brush. It lets children know that cleaning their mouth is part of a routine.

Show Them the Way

Before school age (even after for many kids) children likely aren’t brushing or flossing well, says Hulland: “They lack the consciousness and coordination to do a good job.” They’ll brush along the biting surface, for instance, but not where the teeth meet the gum. At this stage, parents need to brush their child’s teeth or do it with them (i.e. your hand over the child’s). The same with flossing, which should start as soon as there’s no space between the baby teeth. Another way to motivate them: Let children watch you brush and floss too (you can even do it at the same time) to remind them of its importance and the proper technique.

Set Goals

Use a chart to track your child’s brushing and flossing, and reward them for a good week or month. It’s a visible reminder of an expected task, provides a positive incentive and gives children a sense of responsibility, says Dr. Gary Elman, a Toronto dentist.

Make it Fun

Some accessories-toothbrushes with a favourite cartoon character or that play songs, power brushes, floss wands, fun-flavoured toothpastes-can make caring for teeth less of a chore. Just ensure that the brush head is small enough to reach the corners of your child’s mouth.

Stay on Top

As kids get older and wash up by themselves, don’t just assume that they’ve developed good brushing and flossing habits. Check if their toothbrush is wet or if the toothpaste and floss are running lower. If not, try incentives again. Or if you really want to see results, jokes Dr. Hulland, offer to brush and floss their teeth just like when they were a toddler-that will get any teen moving quickly.