Skip to content

The behavioural science linking bedtime stories and brushing teeth


When research revealed just how many children go to bed without brushing their teeth, our Smile family of oral care brands joined forces with a world-leading university to help make the nightly brush a life-long habit

Children smiling while brushing teeth in a Signal toothpaste campaign

New research from Smile – our family of oral care brands which includes Signal, Pepsodent, Mentadent, P/S, Aim and Prodent – reveals that children who skip brushing their teeth at night are twice as likely to suffer from poor oral health and dental pain. These problems can make them miss school and undermine their confidence and social skills.

Brushing day and night with a fluoride toothpaste can cut the risk of tooth decay for children by 50% compared to brushing once a day. That’s because at night we produce less saliva which means that our mouth doesn’t get naturally cleaned as often. It creates a more hospitable environment for the germs and bacteria that build up throughout the day to multiply, fast.

Yet despite dentists warning that brushing before bed is vital to stave off tooth decay, Smile’s latest study discovered a startling number of children simply don’t do it.

The findings report that 43% of children in Ghana, 35% of children in Egypt, and around one in five children across France, Vietnam and Indonesia go to bed without brushing their teeth. Many parents even reward their children by allowing them to skip the bedtime brush.

Brush, Story, Sleep

Smile’s new campaign, launching on World Oral Health Day on 20 March, sets out to change this damaging pattern. But it’s not doing so by introducing a new toothbrush or a tasty toothpaste. Instead, it’s applying behavioural science to replace bad habits with a regular routine that builds in tooth-brushing – an important change that experts say can last a lifetime.

Working with behavioural scientist Professor Tim Newton at the world-renowned King’s College London,* Smile developed Brush, Story, Sleep. It’s a simple but fun programme designed to help care-givers and children create a night-time routine that combines a bedtime story with night-time brushing.

Photos of the cover and inside pages of The Adventures of Little Brush Big Brush, a bedtime story book .

Key to this is Smile’s new bedtime story book – a collection of 21 stories entitled The Adventures of Little Brush Big Brush. It stars two adorable characters who travel the world and pick up tooth-brushing tips from an array of animal friends.

And it’s no accident that the book features 21 tales – a new one every night for three weeks. That’s precisely the length of time behavioural scientists say it takes to establish a routine and turn it into a habit that will hopefully stick for life.

As well as the book, Smile is also providing care-givers and kids with a 21-night tooth-brushing calendar so they can track their progress throughout the three weeks, and a Little Brush Big Brush bookmark, designed to remind children at just the right moment that they need to brush their teeth before they go to bed.

Putting purpose into practice

“At Smile, our purpose is to eradicate preventable oral disease so everyone can unlock the power of their smile,” says Mariano Sampietro, Global Brand Vice President for Smile.

“We believe nothing should get in the way of smiling – especially not poor oral health. That’s why we must continue to bring new expertise, like behaviour science, into our business, to help us spread outstanding oral health through our products and educational programmes around the world,” he adds.

Smile brands have been running Brush Day & Night school programmes, free dental checks and campaigns to promote good oral hygiene for over 25 years and have reached more than 102 million people worldwide.

* Dentistry at King’s College London has been ranked first in the world in the 2020 QS World University Rankings.

Back to top