Children and dental health

Posted 12 September 2016

Dr James Russell

As a dentist and a father to two boys I know it can be hard sometimes to get your children to brush their teeth. Even when you manage to get them to the bathroom, they can then be fussy about what toothbrush they want to use or for how long they will brush their teeth…Many parents I meet also say they struggle to not only ensure their children brush, but brush properly. So here are my top tips on how to make teeth brushing time less of a battle.

Make it fun!

Sometimes children can get bored with brushing for two minutes and they just go through the motions. One way of making brushing more fun can be to use smartphone and tablet apps. Apps like BrushDJ can help add music and fun while boosting motivation.

Brush as a family

It’s all about positive role modelling.  It’s so easy to underestimate how much our children copy us and want to emulate what we do. Brushing as a family can be a great way of motivating and monitoring our children’s brushing. If you think they have not been as effective as they should, pick-up their brush and give their teeth a top-up!

Use a timer

An easy and effective way to improve brushing is a simple timer. We should all brush for two minutes but in fact the average brushing time is only 45 seconds*! You can break to two minutes into quarters so you brush for 30 seconds each quarter, concentrating on brushing all surfaces in that part of the mouth during those 30 seconds – it makes the time go much faster! Brushing to a timer also focuses children’s attention.

If brushing as a family with a timer, parents can take the lead and call out what part of the teeth to brush.

Make it special

Letting each child choose their own special tooth brush is another way of getting them involved and motivated. Children of different ages should also be using an age specific tooth paste.


Everyone loves praise and rewards so using star charts to tally good brushing can be very effective. As a dentist I should say that any rewards should be healthy!

See the dentist!

We should all see a dentist on a regular basis to check not only our teeth but our gums and other tissues.

Ultimately, regular dental visits are about prevention.  If any issues are discovered then early detection can help to limit how serious they become.

If your children are nervous about the dentist then bring them along to your own check-ups from a young age. This way they will be used to the environment when they are due for their own first check-up at about two years old.

You can make the trip more of an adventure by reading books or watching videos that help them understand what will happen and why it’s important.

For more information on good dental habits for the whole family, check out my videos and test your knowledge with my quizzes.