In the last four years the number of children aged 10 and under needing one or more teeth removed has risen by 9.8%.  The attention surrounding the shocking rise in this figure has caused many parents to reassess their children’s ‘healthy’ diet and stressed the importance of getting them in to a good oral health routine from an early age, to help prevent decay. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends children brush their teeth for two minutes, but a new survey by GSK, the makers of Aquafresh® Brush Time App, reveals that only 44% of parents said their child brushes, or has their teeth brushed, for the advised two minutes each time, with nearly half of parents (48%) saying it’s because their child gets bored at brush time.  But could a fun and educational app be the answer to instil this important behaviour in children?

‘The biggest challenge for human behaviour is any kind of action that needs repeating consistently over a long period of time’, says Behavioural Advisor Damian Edwards, ‘When we set a resolution to change our behaviour, there can be a natural falling off.  Sometimes we might make a resolution and then not keep it. The joy of technology is that it doesn’t have that falling off. 

‘Technology can continue something over and over and it never tires of the action.  It’s that consistency that is so important.  We need a handle or framework to guide us, which is what technology can provide.  An app is an ideally suited pieced of technology to support a habit, like tooth brushing, that needs to be repeated.’

The survey also revealed the various tactics parents have used to try and encourage their children to brush their teeth for longer. Half (50%) said that they try and set a good example by demonstrating to their child while brushing their own teeth and 52% make sure they include brush time as part of a morning and evening routine. Nearly a third (31%) said they hold the brush and physically show their child how to brush correctly and 19% attempt to make brush time fun.

Damian adds, ‘If we want a child to do something, then it is more effective to present it positively - in other words it's best to avoid making it into a punishment or a bad thing.  Finger wagging will only lead to a negative association for the child.  By the same principle, if we reward the child for a behaviour it can be just as counter-productive. So for example, if you say “I’ll give you 50p if you brush your teeth” you are implying that the action of brushing teeth is so unpleasant that you have to compensate them for it.’

As well as making brush time fun, it seems that the right music could also be an important factor in getting children to brush their teeth.

‘Music has a fundamental effect on human beings, it is cross cultural and it transcends age’, says Damian, ‘It doesn’t need to be explained and it doesn’t need a lot of cognitive process. If you sit a small child down and explain why tooth brushing is important and what the ramifications will be, it is unlikely to have much of an impact. Music however and making it fun is a much more effective course of action.’

The research did highlight that there is one artist in particular that might make children pick up their toothbrush – Taylor Swift, with 17% of parents saying that ‘Shake it off’ is the song their children would most like to brush to.