Teaching Young Children Good Oral Health Habits

Purley hygienist Suzanne Hogan offers some advice to parents to help encourage toddlers to look after their teeth.

Parenting can be challenging at the best of times. Being on constant guard to the many dangers that surround young children, even in their own home, can be tiring to say the least.

By the time that they finally go to bed, we are often glad of a bit of peace and quiet. In our haste for this though, it is important to make sure that they don’t skip what should be their final ‘task’ of the day; giving their teeth a good quality brushing.

In today’s Confidental Clinic blog, we offer a few tips that parents might find useful to encourage their children to do this whilst they are still at a very young age. Not all may work for your child, but hopefully some will, or at least provide inspiration for your own unique methods.

The brushing challenge

Every child is different, but a resistance to brushing their teeth is often one of the first things that young children challenge us on. From their perspective, it makes sense. They don’t understand the importance of a healthy mouth and, in most cases, will not yet have experienced the searing pain of a bad toothache. When they are tired, and perhaps a little ‘cranky’, the last thing that they want to do is to brush their teeth.

At this age, you will need to supervise them anyway, but instead of simply watching them whilst they brush their teeth, it will probably help to encourage them if you brush your teeth at the same time. This need only be a relatively cursory brushing as you will need to brush your teeth before you go to bed too, and too much brushing may cause enamel erosion. Children nearly always copy what their parents do, both good and bad, so make sure that this is one good habit that they do copy.

Brushing in the bath

This may seem like an odd place to brush your teeth, but many parents have noticed that their children seem much happier brushing their teeth in the bath, rather than standing over a sink. Perhaps it is the warmth of the water or the fact that they are often surrounded by their friends; i.e. the bath toys, that make them feel more relaxed. In addition to this, if they are in the bath they can’t run away from you. If all else fails, you could try adding a little cold water to the bath each time they refuse, until they finally give in!

Make a game of it

Brushing teeth is a boring task, and those two minutes will seem like a very long time to a small child, so, where possible, make it fun for them. A modern method may be to download a teeth cleaning app with a funny timer perhaps, but even old fashioned methods like making sure that their favourite teddy bear goes to sleep with teeth that are properly brushed may help to encourage them too.

Sing a song

Even if you are a terrible singer, and perhaps especially if you are, kids often find it funny to hear their parents sing a funny song (eventually, of course, they will die of embarrassment if you do this in public). Make up a song about cleaning their teeth to accompany them as they do it. You may well find suitable songs already created on video channels such as YouTube.

Don’t be afraid to take over

Few children will perhaps brush their teeth as well as they ought to do. Sometimes too, tiredness will take over to the point where they simply will not do it. Using parental judgement, sometimes you may need to brush their teeth for them. This is not ideal, but is far better than letting them go to sleep with teeth that are coated in sugar. Because you can’t experience what they feel when you brush their teeth for them, you are likely to do so less comfortably than they would, and you may well find that they take the brush from you and take over the brushing.


Perhaps one of the key things to do when it comes to teaching very young kids to brush their teeth is the ability to be relaxed about it. Plan ahead and don’t make the bedtime routine a rushed affair. Children can be wilful, and suddenly demanding that it is time to brush their teeth and go to bed can often be met with resistance. Do it in gentle steps so that they feel like they are doing it in their own time (even though they aren’t). Not only are they likely to clean their teeth better than if rushed, but they will also go to bed more relaxed and hopefully sleep better, probably giving you a better night’s sleep too.

Finally, don’t forget they they also need to see a dentist, even when they still have their baby teeth. In fact, you should bring your child to see a dentist from around one year old. You will find that the dentists in the team at our Purley practice are very good with young children, providing a relaxed and friendly experience for them. This is likely to encourage them to continue seeing a dentist on a regular basis as they grow older.

If you have a young child, and would like to make an appointment for them at the Confidental Clinic, you can do so by phoning us on 020 8660 8923.