Ask the Dentist: Why is it such a battle to brush my children's teeth?

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to tooth decay, so it's important to teach good brushing habits from a young age, says Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care

Make brushing teeth fun to help develop habits that will keep your child's mouth healthy as they grow
Lucy Stock

"SWAT team assume the formation. Launch bathroom assault. Go, go, go..."

For some young children this is their daily, sometimes twice daily, experience with toothbrushing by parents who are striving to clean their youngsters' teeth.

More often than not the best of intentions are driving the adults to hold the children and force through the toothbrushing.

However, this style of brushing tends to end up in meltdowns and impressive displays of professional mouth clamping abilities that children possess.

If a parent has had a lot of trouble with their own teeth over the years, it's understandable that they wouldn't want their own children to go down the same road.

It can also be the situation that the child has already developed tooth decay which has resulted in a painful abscess and a trip to the dentist. In the current climate this scenario is basically a nightmare for parents as it can prove impossible for dentists in general practice to extract teeth on children without a general anaesthetic.

Parents are left in dismay when they realise that the NHS hospital waiting time for a child to have a painful tooth out in Northern Ireland is over a year and going privately will relieve their wallet of thousands of pounds for just a single tooth.

For many families with a child who's had a tooth removed, they logically want to avoid the problem again and grasp how important twice daily brushing is to keep the teeth strong.

From the child's eye, they rarely have the capacity to understand why toothbrushing is so important, but they do feel the pain of having their teeth roughly brushed.

Then comes an association with painfulness and toothbrushing and the parent probably feels pretty rubbish and stressed about it too, which isn't the aim of the game.

If this situation sounds familiar and you want to improve things, try a different tack.

Bring back the fun into the bathroom, make it a game – do silly things like seeing who can squirt the most toothpaste on the brush, try a toothbrushing app with songs to brush along to or buy them a fun electric toothbrush.

With time, patience, and bundles of positive encouragement you can develop a happy toothbrusher for the long term.