Children can be stubborn about many things, and brushing their teeth is likely to be high up on the list. If your child won’t brush their teeth, it can make mornings and evenings a lot more stressful. While some children will happily brush away twice a day, others need a little more encouragement.
Children and teens might go through phases of refusing to brush their teeth. The first thing to do when your child won’t brush their teeth is to look for underlying reasons. Some children have sensitive teeth, which makes brushing more unpleasant. Speak to a dentist or dental hygienist for advice on how to overcome this problem.
How often should a child brush their teeth?
Children should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes, just like grown ups. Even if your child still has most of their baby teeth, brushing twice a day is really important for their oral health.
Brushing twice a day helps children to develop good habits for a lifetime. The baby teeth are also softer and more at risk of decay. Losing baby teeth to decay can cause lifelong problems.
Common reasons a child won’t brush their teeth
These are some of the reasons we hear from parents about why their child is refusing to brush their teeth:
- Brushing isn’t fun or they aren’t interested
- Testing boundaries and refusing certain things
- Sensitive teeth causing pain when they brush
- Sensitivity to toothpaste flavour or texture
- Disruption to their routine
- Dental phobia
- Acting out and asserting control
The reasons can change from day to day, and your child might not know why they don’t want to brush their teeth. Building positive interactions around dental care is the best way to help children overcome this behaviour.
If a parent regularly shouts at a child for not brushing their teeth, they will start to associate oral care with conflict. Instead, try to maintain a positive demeanour and use positive reinforcement.
What to do when a child won’t brush their teeth
- Some parents of toddlers and young children find that introducing a teeth-brushing song will help children to find some enjoyment in teeth brushing.
- An electric toothbrush designed for children can help to make brushing more fun, and ensure the teeth get cleaned properly. Let your child get involved with choose their oral hygiene products so they can get excited about it.
- Create a routine that your child enjoys, such as reading a book after they have brushed their teeth.
- Let them brush their teeth first, and then ask if you can have a go. This will ensure they feel like they have control over the process, but you can still make sure they don’t miss any spots.
- Leave a note from the tooth fairy. Let your child know that the tooth fairy will only collect teeth that have been well cared for. Children love the mystery of the tooth fairy, so this could be enough to encourage them.
- Ask if they brush their teeth at school, pre-school or nursery. If they don’t, ask if this could be added to their routine. Some children feel queasy if they brush first thing in the morning, so brushing after lunch may be less stressful. Children may also be more receptive to instruction from their teachers.
- Arrange a visit to the dentist. Children should never be shamed into brushing their teeth because they are afraid of their dentist. This can set up a lifelong phobia of dentists. Instead, try to encourage positive interactions. Remind your child they aren’t in trouble with their dentist, they just have someone to talk to about why they don’t want to brush their teeth.
- Reward good habits, don’t punish bad habits. Using a star chart can help children to feel a sense of achievement.
If you’re struggling to get your older child or teenager to brush, you will have to rely on reasoning and logic. If a teenager is refusing to brush their teeth, make sure they understand the implications and what could happen if they have tooth decay.
If a child is self-conscious about their smile, this might make them reluctant to brush. Talk to them about their concerns and see if there is anything you can do to help. They might be willing to explore orthodontics to help them feel more confident.