My 6-year-old son hated brushing his teeth — until he started using this Android app

Pokemon Smile Brushing
Pokemon Smile Brushing (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

If you're a parent of younger children, you know that many evenings can be a struggle. Getting ready for bed is commonly a child's least favorite part of the day, and that's because it means it's the end of playtime. For my wife and I, having our son brush and floss his teeth was probably the biggest battle of any evening because there was simply no joy in it. Then Pokémon Smile came along.

Pokémon Smile The basics

Pokemon Smile Stock Image

Source: Pokémon (Image credit: Source: Pokémon)

It's likely you've never heard of Pokémon Smile. Even our family dentist hadn't heard about it, and that office is packed to the gills with all sorts of amazing gadgets that are designed to fix up teeth. This particular gadget is just a simple app that you can download on your phone via the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, making it a lot easier to have in your home.

Pokemon Smile Pokedex

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

The basic gist of the experience goes something like this: your child picks from one of a handful of starter Pokémon to use throughout their adventures, as well as a "cap" Pokémon to wear on their head. Clicking start will face players off against a random Pokémon where they will be instructed to brush different parts of their mouth throughout a 1, 2, or 3-minute long adventure.

Your child's Pokémon will attack the other Pokémon and surrounding plaque based on how well and consistently your child brushes. After the halfway mark, the Pokémon they're trying to catch shows up and is covered in goop which can be cleaned off by consistently brushing for the remainder of the time. The better your child brushes, the better the Pokéball will be at the end. Just as you'd expect in a Pokémon game, low-level Pokéballs leave a chance for Pokémon to escape, while higher level Pokéballs are a guaranteed catch.

At the end of every match, you'll have the opportunity to catch that Pokémon that showed up at the halfway mark. This experience is entirely based on how well you brushed. That's a stark difference from other Pokémon games, like Pokémon Go, where catching a Pokémon is based on a mix of skill and luck. Most battles earn a combination of digital stickers or new caps, as well as brushing awards for days, weeks, or even months of participation.

Catching Pokémon is entirely based on how well your child brushes

These stickers can be used to decorate a picture of your child, taken while brushing, and can be saved to your phone's gallery for later enjoyment. There's even a Pokedex of all Pokémon you've caught, complete with stats like type, height, and weight. For my son, the picture decorating and stats experience is a highlight of every evening, and it's a blast for him to find out which pictures the game took and have everyone choose their favorite picture to decorate.

Pokémon Smile Just the right balance

Pokemon Smile Screenshots

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

For parents worried about their children using the app too much (or getting bored of it quickly), the game has some built-in safeguards to keep it from being used too much. Brushing time can be customized in the settings, depending on your brushing habits, and brushing adventures can only be undertaken every few hours. There's even a timer after every completed adventure letting you know when you can go on the next adventure, helping keep this as a handy utility rather than a game to binge their way through.

The app has been updated a few times since we started using it back in the summer, including a major update that made brush tracking more consistent and catching Pokémon more rewarding. When we first started using it, there were some days where we had issues with it properly tracking my son's brushing, resulting in him not earning a good enough Pokéball to catch anything.

On top of that, the initial rewards system was a little underwhelming and he'd regularly find that there was little or nothing new at the end of a round of brushing. That was detrimental to the experience — and his desire to brush — but has thankfully been completely fixed since then. As it stands now, he always catches something because he brushes well, and he always gets at least one sticker for whichever Pokémon he caught that night.

It's layers upon layers of positive reinforcement, and that's a very good thing for kids.

Pokémon Smile also rewards kids for coming back and brushing every day. Over time, you'll earn badges that will not only be proudly displayed right on the Pokémon Smile home screen, but the theme music will even become more complex over time since each badge adds a new instrument to the song. It's layers upon layers of positive reinforcement, and that's a very good thing for kids.

Pokémon Smile is also completely free from start to finish. There's no cost upfront, no subscription, no DLC, and no weird data sharing policies with social media. The terms of use does have a section about buying and/or trading virtual content, so there's always the possibility that something could be added in the future but, for now, it's free as it can be.

Pokémon Smile Why it's amazing

Pokemon Smile With Toothbrush

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Instead of a fight, every evening's brushing time is now a joy. In fact, my wife and I both have it installed on each of our phones, and our son will alternate between them because he's caught different types of Pokémon on each one. Instead of brushing his teeth for him because he didn't want to take the proper time to do it, he now brushes the full 2-minutes every day and doesn't skimp out on the hard-to-reach places, either.

Instead of a fight, every evening's brushing time is now a joy

Some parents might worry that adding a game to every menial event will create overstimulation but, for us, Pokémon Smile has been the perfect balance of instruction, encouragement, and just the flat-out fun that our son needed to do better. It's been a uniquely excellent way to get him to appreciate something that many children find incredibly boring, as the threat of cavities and other teeth problems often doesn't sink into their brains because they have little reference to the true ramifications of dental issues.

If you're anything like us and have children who regularly struggle with brushing time every day, I can't recommend Pokémon Smile enough. It fits in with the concepts of positive encouragement and redirection in a way that gets kids excited about a previously bland topic and gets them involved in an important skill that they'll need throughout their lives.

I'm not just talking about catching them all — we all know Pokémon is going to be around for a long time — I'm also talking about avoiding all the problems that poor dental health will cause over a lifetime.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu