Seeking Advice for Increasing Cooperation in 12Yr Old Son's Dental Hygiene

Updated on October 01, 2009
D.S. asks from Peoria, AZ
9 answers

I need some suggestions in getting my son to cooperate better with caring for his teeth and tongue. Great kid, just seems to avoid brushing, flossing, and swishing like it were the plague. He typically responds best to praise rather than criticism, but this time, no amount of verbal praise seems to help the situation.

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answers from Flagstaff on

My 13 year old daughter was the same way at 12. I tried explaining the consequences of her choice, but it did no good until she actually experienced the consequences. She had to get cavities filled and then her orthodontist gave her new, painful retainers. (She wasn't wearing the old ones and her teeth went crooked again.) Now she is meticulous! Unfortunately, with teens we may beg and plead but we can't make their choices for them. They have to (and want to) experience it for themselves.

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answers from Phoenix on

I know what it's like to encourage, plea, beg, reward, threat...whatever to get kids to brush everyday..twice a day for a good length of time, plus floss! Sometimes it was the taste of the toothpaste, or they didn't want to take time away from doing something else, or too tired. Kids also don't really get the true consequences of their actions or non-actions either, so any amount of pleading won't help. Also, boys just aren't that into hygiene at this age. I have 3 girls and 1 boy. My son doesn't think showers are necessary either! So this is what I did to "encourge" my kiddos to brush better and 2x a day. First I bought cool toothbrushes. I spent the extra money on the spinning ones, or get a Sonic toothbrush system. They tend to do more work with less effort on the kids end:) Let them pick out their favorite toothpaste. Buy an egg timer or an old fashioned sand timer for 2 minutes. Then....I used some tough love. I showed them images from websites on what uncared for teeth look like. That did it!!! Gruesome to look at, may sound like I'm tormenting my children. But kids will get it if they either experience it first hand or at least see it. And I figure it's way better for my kids to see the grossness instead of experience it personally. When my daughter first got her braces on, the orthodontist showed her photos of kids who didnt' take care of their teeth properly with braces...she swore to brush for 5 minutes 3x a day:)
When my son or youngest daughter don't feel like brushing at night..I say "fine. You can brush your teeth in the morning for 10 minutes then." They get up and go brush right away:) If they don't, then you HAVE to stick to the consequences or this tactic doesn't work;)
The bottom line. We can be loving, encouraging, compassionate all we want with our kiddos. But sometimes when we know they have to do something for their own good...we have to be firm and use some tricks up our sleeve.

Best wishes,
mom of 4. Birth and Parenting Mentor

PS...another little trick. If he likes girls now...ask him if HE thinks a girl will like him back if he has rotten teeth and bad breath. I find that when I ASK my kids questions, instead of telling them what will happen...they get it more because they are coming up with the answers for themself. It almost always works in any situation.



answers from Phoenix on

Would your son be more interested if he could pick out the tools and products he uses? (Just an idea.)
Note: swishes with alcohol may be banned in Australia...alcohol in them linked with oral cancer. Would that our FDA be so interested in our long-term health.



answers from Tucson on

we had the same issues with our 11yr old. we recently tried getting that pre-brush rinse that stains his teeth blue so he has to brush them well to get it off! We just make him rinse with it and show us the blue before and clean after, it has saved us a lot of aggravation and his dentist has said it looks like his brushing has improved!



answers from Phoenix on

Sometimes it's better coming from someone else, like the dentist. Have the dentist explain what will happen to his teeth over time and even show photos. Combine that with disciplinary consequences for not brushing - take away privileges until he can show you he's responsible enough to take care of himself. My 17 year old went through this by just being lazy. Forget the verbal praise - he's 12. By the way, the lady who told you to pay him a dollar each time he brushes is crazy. Don't ever PAY your kids for doing what they are supposed to be doing. That is completely the wrong lesson to be teaching them.



answers from Phoenix on

Bribe him until it becomes habit.
Get some of that stuff that you stain your teeth with before you brush and give him a $1 if he brushes it all off (at least he'll get one good brushing a day in).
After a while he will get used to and want to have the feel of a fresh mouth and you won't have to pay him forever.

This may not be a popular idea (i.e. "bribing" them to do what they are supposed to do anyway BUT it is a similar tactic to what many parents use when getting them to learn in the first place such as sticker charts and prize boxes.) I would much rather fork out $7 a week for clean teeth than HUGE dental bills.

As the mom of 4 I use whatever tools I have in my bag and I am not above a humorous bribe or two if it gets the job done. Not everything needs to be a power struggle or a battle. Sometimes you just use what kids respond to (and mine always respond to money).



answers from Phoenix on

My twelve year old son had trouble with hygiene in general. It actually started with him not showering thoroughly. I threatened to do the job for him and that scared him into doing a better job. Same with his teeth. One day I had reached my limit and I took him into the bathroom, sat him on the closed toilet (he is really tall!) and brushed his teeth for him. He didn't enjoy the experience and from then on my mantra was "do it right, or I will" He does much better now. My 10 year old daughter doesn't have trouble because she learned from her brother's mistakes.

There are just some things we have to do in life that we don't enjoy doing (like cleaning toilets...ew.) but they have to be done. And we don't get any reward for having done it, other than that the job is done. I would avoid bribes because there is no lesson learned, and I doubt you want to pay him for the rest of his life.



answers from Kansas City on

I'm a visual person so I use pictures to get my point across or an experience. Maybe showing him pictures of what a mouth without teeth looks like or the different diseases that can occur because of poor oral hygiene. Maybe the next time he goes for his 6 month cleaning you can ask the dentist for some advice or suggestions or maybe to talk to you son about it.

My mom has 11 teeth and she would wave her false teeth in the air and say, "do you want to end up like me?" That would make me brush every time.



answers from Phoenix on


My first suggestion, you stand over your son while he brushes and brushes correctly. My husband and I do that w/ our two kids. What's worse? The adults missing 5 minutes or so out of our day or the kids missing their teeth?

My favorite tools, Listerine has two products out. One is called "Agent Cool Blue" and its the one that turns your teeth blue. They have another product (that I can't remember the name), also by Listerine. This one, they brush then swish and it stains any food particles left on their teeth. So, when they spit the rinse out, you see all these "glowing" leftover food particles! They worked very well w/ my kids.

I agree about the not bribing your son. All that will teach him is he shouldn't take any responsibility for himself, just wait for payment.

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