5 tips to get your teen to brush their teeth

If you have young children, you know it can sometimes be challenging to get them to brush their teeth. The same sometimes goes for teenagers too.

Busy teenagers may find the idea of regularly brushing their teeth time-consuming or not always necessary. But it’s especially crucial to take care of teeth during the teen years.

Instilling healthy habits now can set your teenager up for a lifetime of good oral health. Learn why teeth brushing matters so much, plus get 5 tips to help motivate your teen to brush (and maybe even have fun doing it).

Why it’s so important for teens to brush

Maintaining good oral care is important. And helping your teen fully understand the value may prevent problems that can occur from not brushing every day.  

The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day for at least 2 minutes, and flossing once a day.1,2 Unfortunately, most teens don’t brush for the full 2 minutes. One study found that the average brushing time for adolescents is approximately 75 seconds. During that time, they brush unevenly, and neglect or skip parts of the tooth’s surface along the way.3

A common result? Tooth decay, or cavities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 57% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 have had a cavity in at least 1 of their adult teeth.4

It’s also important to use fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash containing fluoride, explains Jonelle Anamelechi, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist and owner of Children’s Choice Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics in New Carrollton, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

As Dr. Anamelechi notes, it’s important to make sure that the mouthwash your teen uses isn’t just for freshening breath. Fluoride is key to helping to prevent cavities and keeping teeth strong and healthy.5

That said, cavities aren’t the only concern. “We often see signs of mild gum disease, or gingivitis, in teens from improper brushing or not brushing at all,” says Dr. Anamelechi.

Gingivitis becomes prevalent during adolescence, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.6 Left untreated, it can turn into, a more severe form of gum disease. Often, gum disease occurs when bacteria builds up on the gumline and isn't removed due to poor brushing or no brushing.6,7

Tips to help get your teen to brush

There are a number of ways you can nudge your teen toward brushing. Consider these 5 tips to help motivate them to prioritize their teeth.

Tip #1: Be upfront about the consequences

During adolescence, it’s common for kids to begin focusing more on themselves and their appearance. This can present an opportunity to talk about the downsides that come from a lack of brushing — but without pressure or shaming.

These downsides may include cavities and gum disease. Others could include bad breath, discolored teeth and more frequent trips to the dentist to deal with oral health issues.

Tip #2: Help your teen choose products based on their interests

Consider what your teen cares about, then show them some options to tap into that.

The techy teen

If your teen loves techy things, replacing a regular toothbrush with an electric one could be a game changer. Electric toothbrushes come in fun, vibrant colors and often have appealing extras. Some of the perks include:

  • Different brushing modes, such as gum massage and tooth polishing
  • A built-in 2-minute timer, with vibrations every 30 seconds that remind you to switch to a different zone in the mouth
  • Waterproofing, so your teen can use the toothbrush in the shower, making their hygiene routine more efficient (just make sure not to store the toothbrush in the shower, as moisture can lead to microbial growth)8

The eco-friendly teen

Some teenagers are concerned about the environment, and they may be interested in using eco-friendly dental products, suggests Dr. Anamelechi. These include bamboo toothbrushes and plastic-free dental floss.

The teen with braces

It can be tough getting around braces to hit all the nooks and crannies in the mouth, Dr. Anamelechi explains. A water flosser can be a great option for kids with braces.

The teen who likes fun flavors

If your teen isn’t flossing enough, Dr. Anamelechi suggests trying string flosses that come in interesting flavors. You can find string floss in chocolate, watermelon, coconut and even birthday cake flavors. Some fluoride toothpastes also come in fruity, chocolate or vanilla flavors.

Tip #3: Show them timer tools

One way to help your teen brush for the recommended amount of time? Incorporate another tool they likely use often: their cell phone. Here are a few ways to use a smartphone for good.

  • Suggest that they go to the phone's stopwatch feature and set it for 2 minutes
  • Help them find a favorite song that’s approximately the right length of time, and have them brush while the song plays
  • Look in the app store for brushing apps that play music from a user’s device for 2 minutes while they brush or that create reminders to brush

Also, some electric toothbrushes have their own apps. They may, for example, recognize your brushing style and then provide personal coaching. Some apps also give progress reports to help your teen stay on track.

Tip #4: Have the dentist be the expert

Regular visits to the dentist can reinforce the importance of brushing. Not only can your teen’s dentist determine whether there are any issues related to poor brushing or not brushing enough, but they may also have more influence as an expert. Your teen may listen to what they have to say without the same resistance you may encounter.

A pediatric dentist has likely dealt with this issue before, so they know the right words and ways to communicate the importance of oral health. They can explain in detail and may have photos or videos they can show of the negative effects of not brushing. They can also demonstrate the right way to brush.

On the flip side, if your teen is doing a good job, the dentist can reinforce their efforts. It may incentivize them to keep up the good work.

Tip #5: Set a good example

As with many things in life, actions speak louder than words. Teens can actually visualize the importance of brushing when parents practice good dental hygiene themselves.

“If parents are doing it, kids will follow suit,” says Dr. Anamelechi. Seeing their parents go to regular dental appointments also underscores the value of taking care of your teeth. Modeling good eating habits can help too. Eating nutritiously and keeping sugary snacks and drinks at home to a minimum can help ward off cavities.

The bottom line: Sometimes, teens need a little extra motivation to stay on top of brushing and flossing. Helping them prioritize oral care habits now can help keep their teeth healthy and strong well into adulthood.

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