Why Do Some Kids Refuse to Brush Their Teeth?

Plus some tips on how to get your kids excited about the task.

Do you ever feel like your nightly routine is a struggle, defined by begging, pleading and bribing your little ones to brush their teeth? For most parents, getting kids to brush their teeth can be like pulling teeth. Or, in other words, impossible. But luckily, parents whose kiddos have gone on strike from this healthy habit can rejoice: the experts say there are real reasons that kids hate brushing their teeth. We’ve also rounded up some tips on how to get your kids excited about the task.

Kids may have sensory issues

While many children dislike brushing their teeth, children with sensory issues may be especially resistant when it comes to this task. They may have hypersensitivity, dislike the flavors or texture of the toothpaste or the feel and pressure of the bristles on their teeth.

Dr. Lynse Briney of the Chicago Dental Society suggests trying various options for toothpaste flavors and brushes to see what works best for your child.

“The advent of Amazon makes it possible to work around some of those sensory issues,” she says. “You can find just about any flavor toothpaste, and even non-flavored toothpaste. There are also endless amounts of brush types.”

Briney suggests that when testing these options, start your child with a 10-second brush and increase gradually up to two minutes when they can tolerate the brush. If a child is still having trouble, she recommends working alongside other therapists kids may be seeing, such as an occupational therapist or school therapist, to come up with a combined solution.

Kids are naturally defiant

It is also important to note that kids hate to be told what to do and when to do it. Tooth brushing naturally falls into this category.

“As parents, we need to be consistent with tooth brushing like we are consistent with kids on having them shower or bathe regularly and change their clothes,” says Briney, who is also the parent of an 8- and 11-year-old. “Parents should stress the importance on why kids should brush their teeth, and give them options about when they want to do it. The important thing is it gets done.”

Tooth brushing hurts

Dr. Aggie Iwa of Hart Dental in Barrington says that when children experience pain when brushing their teeth, it is time to get checked out by the dentist.

Some causes could be innocent, such as a tooth becoming loose, a tooth growing in, or from a child biting their cheek or tongue at night. However, it could also be something more scary — like gingivitis or an inflammation of the gums.

“The best thing to do is to visit a dentist, who can pinpoint the culprit of the pain,” says Dr. Iwa.

How to encourage kids to brush their teeth

When it comes to getting your kids to brush their teeth without a fight, some options include reading books about tooth brushing, regularly visiting the dentist and letting kiddos pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste. There are also a wealth of apps that turn toothbrushing into a game or song to make the task more exciting.

How Kids Should Properly Brush

Source: Chicago Dental Society

  • Brush back and forth using small strokes, and brush into the gums.
  • Brush both the inside and outside of teeth. Try to reach those little cracks and crevices where plaque can hide.
  • Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too.
  • Brush twice a day for two minutes, and brush and floss before bedtime.

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Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky
Lori Orlinsky is an award-winning journalist and bestselling children's book author. She is the mom of three little ladies who keep her on her toes.


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