Get Your Toddler to Brush Her Teeth

Like many parents, getting our daughter to brush twice a day was a struggle at our house. Sometimes she would want to brush her teeth, but many other times she would exercise her independence and kick, yell “NO!” and fling her toothbrush across the room. I got frustrated for about 5 minutes and then decided to get a better plan. This is what I did. Hopefully it will help some other parents end the dental hygiene battle.

1. Buy several interesting tooth brushes and let your toddler decide which one she wants to use. Pick out different colors and those that sport your child’s favorite character. Toddlers like choices because they get to have a little control of the situation. So now instead of flinging the toothbrush (how she used to have control) she picks one of 5 different toothbrushes (how she how has control). So the question is not whether or not we are brushing our teeth, but what toothbrush are we going to use.

a. Toothbrushes come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure you pick an age appropriate toothbrush. Most have an age range on them.

b. Toothbrushes I selected: I found one with Elmo on it – Elmo rules in our house. I also found a green one with a train, a pink one with ladybugs and one that looks like my electric toothbrush: the Gentle Vibrations toothbrush by Summer Infant. She also has a plain white and yellow one that came with her infant grooming kit.

2. Find a fluoride-free, training toothpaste. We like Jason’s Natural Earth’s Best Organic Toothpaste. It is strawberry and banana flavor. You can find it at stores like Whole Foods. Do not use regular toothpaste until your child learns not to swallow it.

3. Make brushing teeth part of your morning and bedtime routine, just like reading a book.

4. Let your toddler brush the teeth of her favorite stuffed animal or doll.

5. Brush your teeth with your toddler and let her help you.

6. Make it fun. Stand her in front of the mirror and ask her to roar like a lion, brush a few teeth while she is roaring. Make other faces with her, of course picking faces that will allow you access to her teeth. My daughter has a toothbrush with a train on it, so we will say “Choo-choo!” and the train will chug along to brush her teeth.

7. Let your toddler brush them herself. Sometimes a little independence is all it takes. My daughter does very well and follows instructions – brush your bottom ones, now the top. You can also let her mirror you so she is brushing the same teeth you are in a mirror image.

8. Most importantly offer praise! Even if the toothbrush is only in her mouth 5 seconds before protesting, simply say “yeah! All done. You did a great job!” Put the toothbrush away and then try again the next time. Don’t fight her, but offering praise and not pushing will soon help your toddler realize brushing her teeth are really not a big deal. Continue to offer praise even when tooth brushing is well established – we just offer a simple “good job.” This will keep her confidence up. The best defense is a good offense. Bad behavior is discouraged by praising good behavior because toddlers like pleasing their parents.

9. Don’t stress about it. Infants and toddlers are like dogs in that they somehow have a 6th sense and know if you are tense or uncomfortable about something. I can say this is a very accurate statement for our daughter.

10. You may also choose to keep a chart or offer small rewards, like stickers, for when she does a good job.

This is what we did and it worked so well, that she sometimes uses two toothbrushes and will not let them go. She has fallen asleep with them, taken them to school, and has even tried to brush the dog’s teeth (don’t worry, I intervened). Of course, she still protests sometimes, she is a toddler after all, but now we mostly enjoy our tooth brushing time.

If you have your own tricks, please feel free to share them!

Good luck!

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by toohipmum on July 29, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    I agree that it’s not easy to get children brush their teeth. I liked the idea of having several toothbrushes handy and letting having your toddler brush her teeth with you.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jack's mom on August 8, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Love your blog. We use the method of several toothbrushes too. We also let our son pick them out at the store so he is excited to get home and brush. Another idea we use is to count to 10 or 20 while he brushes, then his father or I say, “Okay, let’s check to make sure you got all the sugar bugs.” at which point he counts to 10 or 20 while we brush his teeth. The bonus here is that he has learned to count to 10, and can almost count to 20 now, too.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Whitney on January 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Good idea – but my daugher is just about to turn 1 and she just doesn’t get it yet… she screams when I try to brush her teeth. Of course she wants to do it, but she isn’t old enough to really do a good job… I’m so afraid she’s going to have cavities!

    Reply

    • Posted by Ann Dentist on July 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm

      Try to give her water before she falls asleep, specially if she had a bottle or other sugar containing foods. Don’t think she’ll have cavities as an inevitable outcome. My son refused the toothbrush until he was about 1 year and 2 months old. I had to use a scare tactic (not proud of that) using the following little story involving an ugly, smelly black monster called Mr. cavity, who is really afraid of toothbrushes and toothpaste ;)… I even made a puppet! I reccomend you always brush her after she finishes doing it herself, until she is about 7 years old. Hope this helps…

      Reply

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