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The Preeminence of Teeth Brushing in Parenting

The brushing of teeth is a good hill to die on for most parents. As professionals I realize we often caution parents to “pick their fights” and decide if this is the “hill to die on,” but rarely does anyone weigh in on the Top 10 Hills for Parents to Die On. I think teeth brushing should go on that list, and probably near the top.


Teeth brushing has a direct link to some essential things. First, it has a direct link to a person’s health. People who keep their original teeth live longer, healthier lives. Poor oral hygiene can lead ultimately to poor health and shorter lives.


Second, teeth brushing has a major impact on finances. Cavities can cost hundreds of dollars to fix. Avoiding such costs by the correct use of a $1 piece of plastic makes a lot of financial sense for any family budget.


The influence of teeth brushing extends well beyond that though.


1. Habit formation. Teeth must be brushed at least twice a day, every day. The only way this can be accomplished is through the development of a habit. The ability to intentionally develop habits is essential to successful living. Things like getting out of bed, taking medication, washing hands, homework and chore completion, and many other routine simple and complex activities lend themselves to habit for their completion.

2. Health maintenance. Teeth brushing is one health behavior every person must perform. Others include taking medications, eating well, exercising, deep breathing, sleeping enough, etc. Again, the list is long and for many children, teeth brushing is the flagship behavior for general health management.

3. Developing Routines. People benefit from routines to get moving in the morning and calm down at night. For most people, teeth brushing is an essential part of both routines. Note: routines are often composed of several distinct but related habits for a larger end (e.g., falling asleep at night, getting out the door on time in the morning).

4. Social Skills. Bad breath and ugly teeth make it hard for people to get near you let alone discover what a wonderful personality you have. Amazing that much of that grossness could be managed by 4 minutes of effective brushing. Culturally speaking, Westerners have high standards for oral health and appearance. Reputation can also be strongly linked to oral appearance (e.g., missing teeth, yellow teeth, bad breath).

5. Daily Discipline. There are behaviors we can do in short bursts on a routine basis that result in enormous benefit to us in the long term. Saving $10 a week, turning off lights, washing hands, daily hugs, walking the dog-these are all examples where the individual act is insignificant, but the collective impact is enormous. Saving $10 a week for 50 years turns into $40K. I will walk my dog about 3000 miles over his lifetime. Teeth brushing happens in short, 2-minute bursts twice a day, but can actually extend a person’s lifespan. Teeth brushing is a small investment with a huge return, and for many children forms the foundation of important daily disciplines.


Is this a hill worth dying on? It is for me, your friendly neighborhood Behaviorist. I’m also a parent.

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