Learning to love toothbrushing

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  Posted by: Dental Design      10th May 2022

Well-maintained oral health means less dental treatment. When people understand that this is their reward for taking care of their teeth and gums, their motivation for correct daily hygiene will increase. Good conversations with patients will facilitate this engagement and establish the relationships that are the key to improving health and wellbeing. You will have some who will gladly do anything to avoid a filling; they will appreciate their responsibility and the part they have to play. They will listen to your advice and stick to it.

Engaging with others will be more challenging, however and children are one group it is important yet often hard to find a way to communicate effectively with. Children’s oral health, and how to improve it, is complex, involving socio-economic factors that do tend to make some more prone to dental disease. A survey of three-year-olds in England, covering the academic year 2019-2022, found that 10.7% had experienced decay.[i] A similar survey in 2013 reported that 11.7% of three-year-olds in England who participated in the study reported decay – so barely a change, then, although percentages such as these are always a snapshot and the pandemic has made the issue of access far worse, across the UK.

Some families are unable to access dental care at all; hundreds and thousands of children won’t have had their first appointment. Oral health problems aren’t exclusive to those from less-affluent backgrounds either.[ii] A big challenge for oral health practitioners when they are trying to engage with children and have a good relationship with them is the problem of ‘reward’, or a lack of instant gratification. For a child with no concept of what it is like to have a filling, telling them the consequences of not brushing their teeth properly won’t have the same impact as the same conversation with an adult patient. And if they do end up needing treatment, despite all the efforts of the dental team to make it as comfortable and quick as possible, it often ends up being an experience they don’t forget in a hurry. This is how countless cases of dental anxiety and phobia have begun.

Tried-and-tested methods like stickers after their appointment are easy and worth persevering with, but the aim is to get children to enjoy brushing. Toothbrushing is the foundation of prevention and appreciating the importance of doing it correctly will help keep them in good health for years to come. Why don’t some children like brushing their teeth? If you were to ask them, many will simply say that it’s boring – and they’d give the same reason if they were asked why they don’t like combing their hair, washing their face etc. There are toothbrushing apps that use the idea of reward, like revealing a picture as the child brushes over a timed period. If you saw the episode of The Apprentice where the teams had to design a children’s toothbrush and app, you will also have seen the brutally honest way the young panel reviewed the finished products! Children have high expectations and quick, inquiring minds. A reward-based app needs to keep on engaging them or it could soon lose its novelty value.

An app won’t teach technique either; it is oral health practitioners who can do this and show children which tool to use too. Parents and carers are also key here – refresh brushing technique with them and how to correctly manipulate the brush around each section of the mouth. Brushing may be ‘boring’ to a child, but brushing together with their mum, dad, siblings or other carer can make it slightly more fun. If they don’t use an app, they could choose their own music to brush to. One potential problem with apps is they can be fixated on timing but more important is holding the toothbrush correctly, to gently yet effectively remove optimal plaque. For the right tools, recommend families chose children’s brushes from a range that they can grow with, with adult variants to match. The TANDEX range comes in Junior sizes, with multiple choices for parents and carers, including interdental tools – some children will be fascinated to see how much extra debris is removed by cleaning between their teeth.

Engagement with children may be sometimes hard but learning how to brush properly is a skill to persist with, to keep refreshing at every oral heath consultation. The humble toothbrush may not be the most exciting object but in a few years’ time they’ll realise just how powerful it is! There are many challenges to improving children’s oral health in the UK, but if we can help them to enjoy brushing at home, and how lovely and clean their mouth feels afterwards, this is a good foundation to build on.


For more information on Tandex, visit https://tandex.dk/
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Tandex products are now available from CTS Dental Supplies and DHB Oral Healthcare


Author – Kimberley Lloyd- Rees on behalf of Tandex. Kimberley graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2010, where she now works as a clinical tutor in Dental Hygiene and Therapy as well as working in practice. She has spent her career working across a variety of specialist private and mixed dental practices, for the MOD and volunteering her time to a dental charity in Nepal.


[i] Oral health survey of 3-year-old children 2020. Public Health England, 30 March 2021. Link,  https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/oral-health-survey-of-3-year-old-children-2020 (accessed January 2022).

[ii] Children from wealthy backgrounds at greater risk of tooth wear. Griffith News, 13 October 2022. Link: https://news.griffith.edu.au/2021/10/13/children-from-wealthy-backgrounds-at-greater-risk-of-tooth-wear/ (accessed January 2022).

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