Meet Jesus

See that? That’d be a toothbrush piled high with a generous dollop of sparkly toothpaste.

It’s bright.



It’s oral-hygieny heaven.

It is also apparently an instrument of torture devised by the devil himself.

My kids won’t touch one. Not the boring one the dentist gives them. Not the battery-operated vibrating one that set me back a night at the movies. Not even the Hannah Montana one that plays a pop tune while you scrub.

Instead, they sit there on the various countertops. Upstairs. Downstairs. In the cubbyhole by the back seat of the minivan. (Just in case, I guess???!!!!) They’re everywhere, relics of some ancient persecution ritual. And they are never wet.

Well, never may be putting it a bit hyperbolically. They do see action every once in a while, the operator grudgingly forced to complete the insanely simple toothbrushing procedure at gunpoint. But if not coerced into action? My kids just let it slide.

They don’t know that I know this. If you ask them before you tuck them in if they’ve brushed their teeth, like they were asked, nay told, by She Who Must Be Obeyed when they were sent upstairs, they’ll chirp, “Why, yes, father! We have brushed our teeth! See?” Mouth gaping wide, plaque build-up hidden in the darkness of night. So I’ll try the famous Uncle Buck line about having a friend down at the crime lab check their toothbrushes for recent activity. But they’re on to me: they know none of my friends are cool enough to work at a crime lab. “That’s so CSI, dad!”


Today, the hammer fell. Their dental hygienist, the one with the smile that isn’t really a smile but a mask hiding her discontent with it all (every time I see her, I can’t help but think of Laura Linney’s character from The Truman Show), sat me (I had the pleasure of going along this time, for my wife claims she has had enough) and the middle two down and gave us yet another Meet Jesus speech. She showed us pictures . . .

These are happy teeth. They are happy because they are brushed twice a day, for two minutes each time, using fluoride-rich toothpaste, the aforementioned toothbrush, and plenty of good old fashioned (gentle) elbow grease. These . . .

. . . are sad teeth. They are sad because some idiot didn’t brush them. Evah! From this, you don’t recover. Evah!

“Have a nice day!”


If you’ve been around The Cheek for a while, you may recall that I am not the one to talk to if you’re looking for a success story in favor of consistent brushing. Rather, I am the bad example, the paragon of what not to do regarding all-things-pearly-and-white. I smoked.* I seldom brushed. I used floss only when I needed to dig out some Snickers bar residue. I neglected my teeth for years and I paid a hell of a price. And yet, even as I neglected to develop my own, I have tried to instill in my kids the habit of brushing. Sure, it’s fun for a while. It’s new! The toothpaste tastes good! The brushes come with Spider Man and Barbie on them! But somewhere along the line, they seem to have given up. My kids are 8, 10, 11, and 15. There is only so much hand-holding you can do . . .

So how to reverse this. I’m up for ideas. How do you, Dear Tweaker, get your kids to brush? Don’t have kids? What has worked for you then? Can my years of being a poor example be undone in a way that makes brushing less of a chore and more of a healthy, positive discipline?

Meet Jesus speeches aren’t much fun. And I don’t want my kids to have to hear another one . . .


* Did you notice? “I smoked.” Past tense. This is my 193rd post, and only the second one I’ve written smoke-free. I’m trying to quit. Again. As my diminutive Zen master Yoda says, “Do or do not! There is no try! Watch the papers . . . this could get ugly!

38 thoughts on “Meet Jesus

  1. Oh, I’ve been there myself. We’ve found that with our daughters, the best way to give them an incentive to brush is by buying a fun kids mouthwash for them to use after the fact. They love it; they’re very careful to get a good brushing in so that they can experience the unrivaled joy of squeezing the mouthwash through the little tube so that they can fill the cup, and then they spend WAAAAAYYYY longer than the requisite 30 seconds gargling and swishing. It’s a messy process (they’re kids; what do you expect) but it works.

  2. I am here. You can rock this stadium and beat this addiction. Walking, talking, pain-in-the-ahem-goad-you-til-you-quit-to-spite-me proof.

    Here for you in any way I can.

    My last was back in 2001.

  3. I was going to recommend those cool kids mouthwashes that show up color on their teeth if they missed any plaque. Agent Blue I want to say? It makes it sort of like a game. My daughter HATES brushing her teeth and has about a thousand cavities, seriously one of her teeth is all rotted out and what not. I had started her using the fun mouthwash and it was working and then I read the bottle and it said “for kids 6 and over” and I was like, “shit, she’s only 3”. So that’s that. I have to wait 3 years before the teethbrushing battles stop. But your kids are old enough for sure.

  4. Oh and congrats on the smoking. My husband smokes and it makes me crazy. Also, this is one of the funniest posts I’ve read. Subtly, intelligently funny. The Uncle Buck paragraph made me laugh out loud. So thanks for that. Getting me to laugh out loud is like next to impossible these days.

  5. I sit on him and do the brushing myself. Of course mine is only 20 months. At some point they get big enough to push you off probably.

    Good luck with the quitting. I feel pretty good about being smoke free. Get through the first couple of weeks and it gets better. What are you using? I was using that Champix or whatever you call it in the States but got sick of feeling nauseous. Now I’m using nicotine lozenges, like them better.

    1. I was on Chantix about a year or so ago, and I liked the way it worked. Didn’t have any really crazy side effects for me. But it’s really expensive. No more than smoking, in the long run, but it just wasn’t doable.

      This time? Cold freakin’ turkey. I just smoked my last one, threw away the box, and said, “That’s enough.” And I went for a walk, passed the local convenience store, and didn’t stop. One small victory. And yet, this morning, when the crave is the worst, I’m sitting here talking to you without smoking. That’s a victory as well. Small, but there ya go . . .

  6. My brother was on the receiving end of the Come To Jesus and The Toothbrush by the hygentist twice a year for going on 27 years now. And he’s still a vile, nasty, green-toothed grinch.

    I’m sorry, I’ve got no encouragement for you today.

    But great work with not smoking. It’s the first week that sucks the worst. I hear.

  7. I was never a tooth brusher until I went to college. Peer pressure did it for me. Then when I figured I was paying for biyearly cleanings anyway, I started seeing the dentist again. My hygentist said my teeth are pretty. But I’ve only had 3 cavities in my life.

  8. Don’t have this problem. My grandchildren sneak in the bathroom to brush their teeth more than twice a day. Try more like after each bite of food–well, not that extreme. I think they eat the toothpaste! They can’t stand food between their teeth, nor the fill of food on their teeth.

  9. I’m sure I’m all lecturey and pedantic etc but seriously, cut me some slack b/c I have major tooth issues and I was a regular (read:avid) flosser, brusher, swisher rinser. (Meanwhile – my husband doesn’t do jack.)

    So I recommend: violation of privacy and being an a*s.

    It takes 30 days to make a habit. Therefore – family meeting. Hey guys, starting June 1st to June 30 we are going to have 30 days of oral hygiene. That means floss brush rinse for each of you, twice a day. And then stand in the bathroom which each child – yes even the older ones – until the go through the whole process. Is it time consuming, yes. Is it obnoxious, yepper. But you only have to do it for 30 days and at the end, they’ll have done it and POSSIBLY acquired a liking for it.

    Meanwhile, who doesn’t want to hang out with dad in the bathroom?

    But seriously, it’s impossible to make changes by “decision” Like “ok, we need to get better at this” It’s easier to say “i’m going to do it perfectly for one week” Anyone can do something for a week. then stretch the week for 30 days.

    1. This is sort of the closest to what we’ve come up with. A lot of immediate attention, hand over hand, drill sergeant coaching until they get sick of it and take over . . .

  10. I didn’t brush regularly until I was in my teens and had to endure a half-dozen trips to the dentist to have cavities filled. Oh, and I became self-conscious about my breath. Surely your 15-year-old is feeling SOME adolescent pressure to look/smell good? Could you use that to your advantage? I envy your kids, my parents didn’t really try to get me to brush.

    And on the smoking thing – GOOD LUCK! I’ve quite more times than I can count, and fairly successfully a couple of times. (Once for FOUR YEARS, once for one year). It’s difficult, but with the proper mindset you can do it.

    1. So, are you smoking now? Did your most recent effort stick?

  11. I don’t have kids yet, but I know what worked for me when I was younger. Fear. Good old-fashioned fear of how my teeth will rot and they’ll have to drill them with power tools and all that good stuff.

    Perhaps Jenn should answer this one — she’s the most thorough tooth brusher I’ve ever met. I swear, she spends ten minutes brushing at a time.

  12. For some reason–my kids love to brush and they love to go to the dentist. FREAKS! So I’ve got no advice there.

    The smoking thing–fantastic. Three years this past week–I forgot to even note it. I’ve got plenty of advice there if you want it. Keep on!

  13. Emily said it first, but surely the 15 year old practices oral hygiene… the payoffs with the chicks are worth it…..

    1. Ty is the odd one. He’s 15, has a very nice girlfriend who doesn’t let him slack too much in these sorts of areas, and yet, despite his total lack of brushing, never gets a cavity. NEVER! He did have some sealants applied several years ago, so maybe they are doing the job.

      The others? Well, this time, despite the speech, there were no cavities. We have well water, and don’t use any type of filtering device besides the one on the refrigerator door, so we are sure to provide toothpaste rich in fluoride . . .

      1. Correction! He’s had 2 cavities that had to be filled after his last visit back in January. He’s due for a visit in about 3 weeks.

  14. I really don’t have any advice but at my son’s age, I do it for him and then let him do it to, to reinforce the sense of responsibility. As a kid, I liked brushing my teeth but I know my husband rarely did it. I think for us, I’m going to have a specific time to do it early on and it’ll hopefully become a habit. If those pictures didn’t scare them – ew! – I don’t know what will!

  15. My kids are much better at brushing than I ever was. At this point I think that the plaque is what is holding my teeth together and I am afraid to disturb it!

  16. Two things. First, smell their breath. It will take them a while to learn to fool you.

    Second, buy them Listerine Smart Rinse and make them use it. They can see where the plaque is, because the blue dye isn’t gone until the plaque is gone.

    1. Hey! Thanks for sharing the “official” name of that cool rinse that leaves your teeth colors if you don’t do it right. Nurse mentioned it yesterday, but I promptly forgot.

      And welcome to The Cheek! It’s an honor . . .

  17. Can’t give any advice regarding the kids, but on my last visit to the vet, he recommended that I drop the cat off at another time to have her teeth cleaned. Havent done it yet.

    Keep up the good nonsmoking work. Just think of all the $$$$ you’re saving!

  18. Oldest Boy [11] takes good care of his teeth. He’s diabetic so he’s self-conscious of his breath and his teeth are slightly discolored. Middle Boy [9]? He’s a pig. A few times a week, I still brush his teeth for him. He’s never had a cavity though. Chris [my husband] curls his lips into his mouth, over his teeth, and talks like a toothless old man, telling the boys if they don’t take care of their teeth, they’ll look like “this”.

    We’re approaching the end of Day 1 without a smoke. Are you jonesin or are you hanging tuff? Sending you strong thoughts. You can do it!

  19. Easiest way for us to get them to brush. We tell them to. 😉

  20. Oh I am very meticulous about keeping teeth clean!!! I can’t sleep unless I floss and brush. I fuss at Clint for not brushing his. The kids… Valerie (4) knows she has to brush hers before bed and school. It took a while, but now she cooperates with out a fight. We used to sing sons about finding animals in her teeth. Veronica (2) doesn’t quite get it. We usually have to pin her down and do it in several phases. Rarely she’ll just open wide and let us brush.

    No clue how to motivate the older ones!!

    Keep in mind I had friends who’s parents had false teeth and they were only in their 40s or 50s. My dad is 76 and still has all of his teeth. My Mom was 74, still had all of her teeth. Take care of ’em and they will last a lifetime.

    Good luck with the quitting smoking!!

  21. At this late stage in the game, it will probably have to be taking away some kind of privilege because enticing them with rewards hasn’t worked. Time to get down and dirty with them and take everything like enjoy away til they change the error of their ways. It won’t take long.

    And stick to your guns, Dad. I’ll have to post the story about how my daughter missed Halloween when she was 6 because she wouldn’t cooperate with the dentist!

  22. Um…you know I don’t have anything to do with the baby Jesus no more…but, that photo of sad teeth might drive me back to the flock. Flossing all the way, of course.

  23. My kids have all been good at brushing, but not so good at putting tops back on to toothpaste tubes .. and like – I’m amazed where toothpaste can land in a bathroom as well!!!

  24. That’s a tough problem to solve. I don’t think scare tactics work for long (man, I could tell some horror stories of my patients with a handful of rotten chicklet stubs poking out of their rancid gums like tar-smeared, polished stumps).

    Reinforcement for good behaviour (i.e., operant conditioning) is much stronger, but that can be complicated to carry out correctly and it rings of bribery. What can you use to stimulate their inner reinforcement?

    I was lazy with my teeth too. Still have them, but I also have a mouth full of mercury. I didn’t start getting serious until there was a response cost: bad breath. Actually a friend with horrible teeth had the worst breath ever. I never allowed him to come within 10 feet of me (this was awkward when we went to a movie together). Then I smelled my own breath. Now I’m a good boy and I look forward to the feeling of clean teeth twice a day.

    The self-help circle would say that you and your children don’t think you deserve to have good teeth, like you are punishing yourself (and others) because a deep part of you resents your self-loathing. They say it’s all about a subconscious lack of self-love. They would suggest teaching your children to say affirmations, like “I am willing to let go of my need to be unworthy (of healthy teeth). I deserve to have the best life has to offer. I love myself and I am worthy off it.” The same applies to quitting the cancer nails. Send me a note offline if you are open to this kind of thing. Some people are turned off by the Wayne Dyer way of doing things.

    Then there’s the coaching approach. Ask your kids to tell you if they think they should have healthy teeth for life. Then ask them what they think they should to do make this happen. (And all the other questions that come along.) It’s a longish approach that requires follow-up and gives them a gentle sense of accountability. All you have to remember is to only ask questions and to refrain from telling them what to do (very difficult!).

    Phew! I think I’ll skip blogging today. All my words are here.

    Take care Brian. I’ll send you my good vibes for your smoking cessation.

  25. nobody can instill guilt like the dentist and his minions. and my vet. i have no ideas for you. my husband is still brushing my seven year olds teeth cuz he’s so pathetic at it. yes, we force them to do it, but they do a horrible job….

  26. This was never really a problem for us. Every once in awhile I have to remind my 9 year old to brush his teeth, but it only takes a few reminders and then he’s back to doing it–to the extreme.

    Good luck quitting smoking! I wish I could get some of my siblings to quit.

  27. Good on ya, man, for trying to quit the cancer sticks – I know that’s a tough thing to do!
    As for the Toothbrushing Anarchy, it is apparently an epidemic. Even after they’ve been to the dentist, had a cavity filled, and gotten the tooth lecture, I still have to stand by, whip in hand, and make sure the guys brush their teeth. My husband is a vigilant brusher, but he has the soft and cavity-pocked teeth. I, on the other hand, am a so-so brusher, but I only have two tiny cavities in my whole mouth, both of which I got in the last 5 years. I’m hoping the kids get my teeth, but Life isn’t fair, and brushing, as much as it sucks, is a necessary evil. Speaking of which, I think I need to go crack the tooth brushing whip!

  28. Just found your blog thru Free Man.

    I have an idea, if they brush their teeth properly and can prove it– they get a big lollipop before bed. Ok, just kidding.

    Seriously, it’s like Dr. Phil says– and the positive discipline books too, they have to make the right choices or there are consequences. If they are not mature enough to brush their teeth, they are not mature enough to play nintendo, or use the computer, or whatever it is that turns them on.

    It’s all about the consequences– but the important thing is, once you tell them what’s going to happen if they don’t brush their teeth, if they choose not to do it, you HAVE TO follow through — as in when they are sleeping take the nintendo and put it in your car trunk, etc. And you’re going to have to check their teeth/breath to prove they did it.

    Go daddy go, show em who’s boss– oh yeah dawg.

  29. Coming over from Dad blogs. Thanks for the scary teeth pictures to haunt my dreams. I really appreciate the use of an Uncle Buck line. Not many folks are willing to do that. I always use the 5 year plan when talking about my Dad quitting smoking. He went from cigarettes to cigars then got stuck. He never made it to the pipe, chewing tobacco, and the gum.

  30. I guess I’m lucky…my kids just brush. I suppose prolonging bedtime is the payoff. Or it’s genetic. I love bushing…seriously. It’s cathartic.

    Advice? You are for more experienced than myself, but if I were a kid and read this post, written by my father:…I’d brush.

  31. As someone who’s spending about $8,000 this year on tooth renovation (doesn’t that sound nicer than what it really is, pain and mental anguish?), I’d be holding their asses down and brushing those teeth. Or standing over them like a drill sargeant as was suggested until they get the hint that they may as well give in and do it because you and mom are not going to let up.

    Do they get an allowance? Tie it to a reduction in their allowance. Every time you have to stand over them to brush, they get $1 less or whatever amount you decide.

    Good luck on the not smoking. I lasted two months, and fell off the wagon. Getting back on shortly…I will quit until I’m quit for good.

  32. Holy crap. I’m scared too!

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