Our Top Five Tips for Tooth Brushing

Brushing teeth is an essential task for everyone to complete at least two times each day. However, it may be the least favorite part of the day for many children. If your child shows strong reactions to brushing teeth, like gagging, try some of these tips to make it a more tolerable experience!

Be a Tooth Brushing Role Model

Even before your child starts to brush their teeth, have them join you while you brush your teeth at the bathroom sink. Children at this stage learn by imitating you and love to try whatever you are doing!

By watching you or a sibling, they can: 1) begin to understand that this is a daily routine for everyone, 2) hear you talk about the toothbrush or toothpaste, your mouth, and how clean it makes your teeth, and 3) if they choose, interact with the toothbrush voluntarily by feeling it or sticking it in their mouth.

Incorporate Tooth Brushing Into Play

Introduce the toothbrush OUTSIDE of the bathroom and in a ‘no-pressure’ situation. Show your child how we can brush their baby doll’s teeth or a tooth brushing buddy.

Try This: StarSmilez Kids Tooth Brushing Buddy Lil Allie Gator

Incorporate tooth brushing into imaginative play. For example, let your child pretend they are a dentist and use the toothbrush to clean your teeth or a dental mold. You can also draw on a whiteboard a mouth with “dirt” on the teeth. Then, have them use the toothbrush to clean the dirt off.

Turning dental care into play makes it fun and allows you to teach your child proper tooth brushing techniques. As a result, you’re enabling them to brush their teeth independently.

Eventually, this can be progressed to encouraging, but not pressuring, them to feel the bristles on their hands, on their cheeks, lips, or tongue. 

Choose the Right Brush Type & Tooth Paste

There are many different toothbrushes out there. If your child is not responding well to the one you are currently using, think about trying a different kind! We recommend looking for ‘Extra Soft Bristles’ for children who have sensitive teeth or say brushing their teeth hurts them.

Some kids love the input a vibrating toothbrush provides. For others, it is too much stimulation. It might even come down to letting them choose their favorite color or character-themed toothbrush!

Try This: BriteBrush is an interactive toothbrush that includes two fun games that also encourage proper teeth brushing techniques. 

Similar to the types of brushes, there are also many flavors of toothpaste! The flavor ‘mint’ can even taste very differently depending on the brand of toothpaste you use. If they don’t like any flavors, try out a flavorless toothpaste.

Try This: Buy a few different travel-sized tubes of toothpaste. If your child does not like the flavor of it, you are not wasting a whole, large-sized toothpaste. 

Remember – no need to start using toothpaste until 18-24 months – consult with your dentist about the best time to start!

Give Children An Endpoint

When we say it’s time to brush our teeth, some children might think of this as a long and never-ending task. Therefore, it can often be helpful to give them an endpoint. This can be done with a visual timer with a 2-minute song, setting a timer on a watch, or even an interactive tooth brushing video on YouTube or an app.

Try This: The Oral-B Disney app

If the concept of time doesn’t work out, try providing an exact number of “brushes” that need to be completed (ex: 5 brushes in each of the four corners of our mouth).  

Prepare Your Child For Tooth Brushing

For some children, brushing their teeth feels like a LOT of stimulation all at once. Try providing gentle sensory input before tooth brushing to “warm-up” their body. Provide deep touch or big squeezes to their arms, legs, shoulders, or with big ‘bear hugs.’ The child could also wash their face beforehand, with slow, circular motions on their cheeks and around their mouth. You can also try using a soft, clean washcloth near their lips or even along their gums to help desensitize. Lastly, cold water may be startling or hurt sensitive teeth, so try warm water instead. 

Toothbrushing is a task that we have to complete our whole life, so children need to tolerate and eventually do it independently. Remember – children all develop at different rates, but we want to provide them with as many strategies and opportunities as possible to help them succeed.

Have more questions? Reach out to the occupational therapists at Skills 4 Life to learn more!


About Skills 4 Life:

Skills 4 Life offers a broad range of pediatric occupational therapy services to children from birth to high school. We help children master age-appropriate developmental skills, become more independent, increase academic success, & develop confidence. The experts at Skills 4 Life specialize in handwriting, keyboarding, & executive function coaching. We also work with children on the building blocks of writing, social & emotional learning, motor skills, self-regulation strategies, sensory integration, early intervention, & activities of daily living. Skills 4 Life offers your child a safe, compassionate environment to learn the critical skills they need to succeed in learning and life. Learn more about our team & services at www.skills4lifeot.com. You also can contact our office by email at karina@skills4lifeot.com or by phone at 303.351.1828 for a free consultation.

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