Teaching your child to brush his or her teeth can be tough. As important as dental hygiene is, it sounds pretty boring to a child: take a break out of your day to stand here for five minutes and brush toothpaste on your teeth. Not exactly something most kids look forward to.

We gathered tips from real moms and dads on how they get their kids to brush their teeth regularly. If you’re having the same problem, hopefully they can help!

1. MAKE IT FUN.

Hippos, tigers, oh my? In Alex’s house, he and his daughter have special words they use to make tooth brushing a little more fun:

“She is three now and does a pretty good job of it. We start with tiger teeth (side to side front teeth) then she opens up and does hippo teeth while we count the number of brushes and then we finish off with tiger teeth again brushing up and down.”

In her home, Colleen uses “witchy teeth,” which came out of a real fright her daughter had:

“One Halloween when my daughter was three, we stopped by the library for story time, and the librarian was dressed like a witch wearing fake rotten teeth. My daughter was horrified by her yellow and jagged smile, and kept asking why her teeth were so “witchy.” I told her the poor witch never brushed or flossed. She was aghast. So from then on, I would always say to my kids, “Go brush your teeth or you’ll get witchy teeth.” It sounds simple, but it really worked!”

Many parents take it a step further and come up with a song to make toothbrush time more and encourage their children to brush for long enough, like Heather:

“We also sing a tooth brushing song that we made up. Songs can get her to do most anything. Except face washing. She HATES that.”

Little touches like these can make the process of brushing teeth more fun and memorable for kids. They might tune out when you talk about enamel health, but witches and tigers? They won’t forget that.

2. STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE.

Getting kids to start brushing their teeth can be difficult, but if you can make it a part of their everyday routine, they’ll get so used to the idea you won’t even have to ask anymore. That’s what happened with Alecia:

“Make it a routine. No matter what, they brush their teeth in the morning and in the evening. It’s just what we do. They go pee, they brush their teeth, then we read a book. It’s part of the habit and routine, so now, they don’t even question it. Beyond that, we sometimes brush our teeth during the day just for the heck of it (before we go out, or if we eat something “stinky” like cheese!).”

Clare started brushing her children’s teeth early more to get them used to the idea than for oral hygiene:

“I was told by my dentist that the main point of brushing teeth at this age is to get the babies used to it and make it fun. If they don’t get all the teeth brushed “properly” not to worry (my LO has 24 teeth already!) but to familiarize her with the brush and taste.”

3. LET THEM IMITATE YOU.

Children are hardwired to imitate their parents. If they see you brushing your teeth, you might not even have to force them to do it. They’ll want to start so they can be just like you. Heather got her daughter started by showing her how she brushed her own teeth:

“I brush my teeth at the same time, and while I’m doing that I let her take control of her toothbrush. She likes to do what I do so that works to keep her happy so I can get in there and do the proper job after.”

Ashley taught her son through imitation and example, which helps with his self-confidence as well as his toothbrushing:

“Right now its all about imitating with my son. whatever we do he wants to do. And he has always loved getting our tootbrushes out of the drawer in our bathroom and he’ll walk around the house with one in his mouth moving it around, but he didn’t want me helping him. So now we do it together. I give him his toothbrush with his baby toothpaste and then I have mine with my toothpaste and he loves it. I usually help him out there at the end, but he really feels big.”

4. REMIND THEM OF THE CONSEQUENCES.

When children get a bit older, letting them know what can happen if they don’t brush can help to encourage them to keep up with the routine. Colleen went about this in a very literal way:

“I showed both kids pictures on the Internet of other people with really bad “witchy teeth.” That worked too!”

As kids get older, you can get more educational, like Alecia:

“As the boys get older, we include more information. Where it used to be “brush off all the yucky stuff and make our teeth shiny!,” it’s now more of a “brushing helps us get off the bacteria from our teeth so that they don’t cause cavities” sort of discussion. We talk about all the things we like to do with our teeth: have healthy smiles, eat lots of tasty foods, etc. And we talk about how we have to keep our teeth clean and healthy so we can enjoy doing those things. As they get older, we’ll keep adding to the information, so they understand all the whys.”

Or you can speak to their interests, like Kate:

“My guy’s 14 now, and the main reminder is that “Girls don’t like to talk to or kiss guys with bad breath” ;)”

5. INCLUDE REWARDS.

If you’d rather keep things positive, you can create a reward system to incentivize proper teeth brushing for your kids. Margaret gives small gifts like stickers to her kids and she also makes it a competition:

“the first one to brush teeth (morning and night) gets.. fill in the blank:

  • choosing tomorrow’s menu
  • sleeping 10 mins late
  • gets “personal time” (no parent, no questions asked) before going to bed
  • extra chapter of the bedtime story”

Alecia uses these kinds of incentives to make the process of brushing teeth even more fun:

“I let them pick out their own toothbrushes (Big M has an electric batman one and a regular killer whale one, Middle M has an electric cars one and a regular train one, and Littlest M has a yellow duck one). I let them put on their own toothpaste (messy, but they love independence).”

Overall, the idea is simple: make it fun, make it a habit and lead by example. If all goes well, your kids won’t fight you on brushing their teeth – they might even enjoy it.