Three Ways to Get Your Kids to Brush at Bedtime

Parents, the struggle is real, even for us dentists. After a long day of work, play, grocery shopping, perhaps school, and even a few meltdowns, it can be a battle to get our kids to brush their chompers. 

Picture this, my 3 year old is tired, cranky and the last thing she wants to do is to brush her teeth. I might be chasing after her with a toothbrush, and doing my best to keep my cool so by some miracle we’ll have a positive experience. Sound familiar? Of course it does. 

Without geeking out too much on oral biology, it turns out proper and routine brushing in the first few years of life is crucial for ideal oral health into adulthood. Dealing with this issue is one of the most common consult requests I get from moms, and dads, in my clinic and at birthday parties alike. 

Allow me to share three quick and effective tips you can use to get your kids to brush before bedtime. 

Keep a simple routine, like this one, Bath, Book, Brush, Bed! In the Shahangian residence, our night time routine is called Bath, Book, Brush, Bed. With kids, you have to set the expectations, and make every task exciting. 

We don’t simply say.”it’s bedtime”. Our routing becomes a fun event that the entire family partakes in. It works because the whole family understands the lingo, “it’s time for Bath Book Brush Bed”. 

This order of events helps our girls slow down and get into a positive mood as we transition into bed (and reading, and brushing).  The name gives them a clear understanding of what’s expected and helps empower them to some degree, which is so important for kids as they grow.

With a routine, A child that knows what to expect tends to respond better and may not force their will as much. You know what sequence works best for your family. You want that sequence named and carried out minimizing variation. So, the order or even which parent does what part of the sequence should be kept routine as much as possible.

Take it to them. On the more difficult nights, this tip has saved my wife and I from a lot of arguments with our kids. When the girls fall asleep in the car, one of them is sick, or simply not having a great day, I literally bring the toothbrush and floss to her bedside. 

We do our best to keep our brushing and flossing routine the same, but instead of brushing in the bathroom, we use a small amount of toothpaste with a paper towel for them to spit into afterwards. I basically brush them as they are already laying down in bed. 

The lighting may not be so good, but when you brush their teeth laying down you actually get a better vantage point and control of that unwilling or tired head. This way, you can get in, get scrubbing, and get out in no time. 

The good news is, you’ll be leaving a coat of toothpaste over their enamel since they won’t be rinsing and spitting. There you go, meltdown intercepted, with a little flexibility on my part. 

Hang a Calendar. Keeping a brushing calendar in your child’s room or bathroom can make a big impact. With a quick Google search you’ll find plenty of free printables — we use this one in our house. Brush calendars provide kids with a visual cue, help them to see their progress toward a goal or reward. Not to mention that placing a sticker on the calendar after brushing gives the little ones a sense of empowerment.

There you have it, three ways to help your kids, and you, have a peaceful and positive bedtime brushing experience. 

Which will you start incorporating tonight? J. Shahangian, DDS, MS, is a breastfeeding advocate, board certified pediatric dentist, and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Oral Health. He practices in his hometown of San Diego at Scripps Pediatric Dentistry (SPD) and is an associate professor in pediatric dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Shahanigan is also on staff at Rady Children’s Hospital and is a proud father of three girls. Follow SPD on Instagram @scrippspediatricdemtistry and check out his Blog.​


About the author

The Parent Connection is a non-profit parenting support group sponsored by Scripps Health. Since 1980, The Parent Connection has been bringing San Diego families together to provide support, share experiences and information, enjoy social activities and build lasting relationships. Parent Connection annual special events are a great way to socialize with other members. And our membership benefits include group discounts to California theme parks and attractions, which more than cover the cost of annual membership. Join now!

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