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It’s time to get out the door and you are still struggling to get teeth brushed. Or maybe for once the kids did brush their teeth, but when you do the breath test, it is obvious that a second brushing is needed. Battle lines have been drawn and the little “green bugs” are winning. How do you get your kids to brush their teeth and brush them well? As a mother of two, I have a couple ideas on how to win the battle and to hopefully save a meltdown and some money down the road at the dentist’s office.

brushing teeth

Start them young! According to Colgate Professional, primary teeth begin to come in as early as six months. A full set of teeth are an important prerequisite to learning to talk and chew. This also leads to proper spacing of permanent teeth. I use a silicone baby tooth brush that fits over the finger to gently rub down their gums to get in the habit.

>> Read more: Keeping Your Kids’ Teeth Healthy During “Sugar Season”

Give them a chance to do it themselves. This is especially important for toddlers who are in that “I wanna do it” stage. This does not mean parents shouldn’t brush their teeth afterward to make sure the job is done. I get creative here by telling my kids that I am “looking for green bugs that were hiding,” which usually elicits a giggle or a serious “please get them out Mom!”

Use fun flavors of toothpaste. Everything tastes different to different individuals. There is traditional mint but other flavors that range from bubble gum and fruit to cinnamon. My older child likes mint and can’t stand sweet or fruit flavors. My other likes bubble gum, but is more likely to gravitate towards anything with his favorite character regardless of flavor. A major player for my youngest was Thomas the Train. If Thomas was brushing with him he was excited to brush. At less than $2 a tube this is a small investment versus a trip to the dentist for a filling or worse.

>> Read more: 7 Ways To Raise Healthy Kids

Let the kids pick out their tooth brush. Sometimes this is not an option for busy moms, but I try to choose one with their favorite characters such as Star Wars or My Little Pony. Older kids might get into the Spinbrush Tooth Tunes or Brush DJ where the music is timed to the length teeth should be brushed. Can’t decide? There are tooth brushes on the market that your child can decorate themselves. Whatever you or your child chooses, make sure to trade tooth brushes out every three to four months as worn out tooth brushes don’t work well.

brushing teeth

Use timers or songs. There are tons of different timers out there from kitchen timers to tooth shaped ones. As long as they can count down (or up) to two minutes kids can get good teeth brushing in on their own. Our family dentist told my toddler to sing the ABC’s to gauge how much time he needed to brush. For my daughter, I pull up her favorite song and play it loud for a two-minute dance party.

Use visuals. There are several ideas for visuals here. I have used plaque tablets or a colored rinse to show where to brush, helpful for kids that say they already brushed. I was having trouble with my son swallowing toothpaste, so I put a bull’s-eye in the sink with bath crayons. He loved the “target practice” and even got to draw the circles himself.

>> Check out these household hacks for toothpaste.

Be a good role model. Kids are great imitators and even better at calling you out when you forget the routine. I brush and dance it out with my daughter. I look for “green bugs” in the mirror with my son and help him reach the far back teeth. I use mouth wash and even get out the floss.

The last seven years we have battled the “green bugs” and so far I would say we are winning the war. The whole family has healthier mouths. Healthier mouths lead to healthier bodies — and not to mention a happy mom.

>> Read more about how to instill healthy choices in your kids.