Toddlers don’t really understand why they need to brush their teeth, no matter what stories we tell them about cavities. And having someone else put something in your mouth and move it around is simply scary, or at least uncomfortable. Most of us don’t enjoy visiting the dentist every six months; we ask kids to open their mouths for us twice a day. No wonder they resist.
Holding a child down is always a bad idea. It’s guaranteed to make them hate brushing their teeth. And it undermines your relationship. So I really don’t like the idea many dentists suggest, that two adults work together to lie the child down and hold his hands while the other person brushes his teeth. Imagine if someone did this to you. How could it not be traumatizing?
That doesn’t mean you should give up on brushing your toddler’s teeth, obviously. Reconciling those two things can be tough, but I have seen many families do it. Basically, you start small and keep at it, just as you do with every other habit. They all brush, eventually. A few suggestions:
1. Make brushing teeth just part of the routine. You may want to try it BEFORE the bath so she is not so tired. Or even during the bath. More awkward for you, but she will be more playful and relaxed. Even right after dinner works.
2. TAKE TURNS!
Let her brush yours if you can brush hers. –Shanon H.
My daughter is 27 months. I brush my teeth while she uses her own brush, then we switch…..she brushes mine with my brush, I brush hers with her brush. –Sara H.
3. WARM HER UP TO THE IDEA SLOWLY
If it’s the brush they don’t like let them play with an extra one so they don’t fear it. They can brush dolls or trucks to clean them. Also, you can put something on their toothbrush they like (even if it’s not the healthiest) just to get them used to the brush in their mouth and slowly switch to toothpaste. You will still have to clean it with the cloth afterward until they get use to the brush. –Melody L.
4. MAKE IT FUN!
My daughter and I used to “race” to see who could brush the longest. And she wrote on the bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker with “winner” hash marks. She always beat me. –Christine D.
Have her lay on the floor with her head in your lap while you sit cross legged, and pretend to play dentist and brush. –Courtney P.
We tell our 3yo there are dragons in her mouth that will eat her teeth and that you have to brush to keep them from eating your teeth. She thinks it’s funny when we “chase” her dragons with the toothbrush! –Taylor J.
5. SCARE HER
I’m mean. I tell them if they don’t brush, the dentist will have to use a drill like Daddy uses to build, in their mouths to fix their teeth. Oh, and they will need a shot. Cruel? A little Effective? Yes. –Romy P.
(Note: Based on the comments below, this may not be the best tactic, but do what works for you!)
6. GET HELP FROM PROPS
There’s a book – it’s a Norwegian one called ‘Karius and Bakkus’ and it got me in there to brush!!! And we used those stupid flashing toothbrushes. Also let them brush my teeth. –Joy H. of Evil Joy Speaks
Disney and Oral-B have this awesome app out. Well, the *concept* is awesome, but the app itself is horrible. You make profiles of your kids, then you scan your Oral-B products. It shows a little picture for 2 minutes while a toothbrush brushes the bubbles off of it to reveal what the picture is. Then the kids get a sticker after the brush. The app is so awful, it crashes all the time, doesn’t open, etc. So why am I recommending it to you? The 3-5 times it did actually open was enough for my son to get over his INSANE fear of tooth brushing. He would scream and scream and cry while it took both my husband and I to get him to open his mouth so we could shove the stupid toothbrush in. After the app, he now brushes (mostly) willingly and without incident. So maybe it’ll work for you, maybe not, but if you can get that app to open and work, I’d give it a shot! –Katie P.
7. STOP STRESSING ABOUT IT
No one ever had to sit on a 10 yr old and brush her teeth for her. Well, not to my knowledge any way. –Penny L.
Do you have any effective tooth-brushing tips for toddlers?
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If she resists, don’t get into a power struggle. Just “Play” toothbrushing the next day so she sees it is still on the agenda and gets a chance to work out some of her resistance. Then try some version of brushing the next night.
There are also books and videos out there that are worth reading with her because it helps her to get used to the idea. There are even videos on utube of toddlers brushing. She probably wants to mimic other kids, right?
BUT I need to add that you can only fight one battle at a time. That is a good general, if frustrating rule, about any change you want to create. So I would not stress about tooth brushing while you are transitioning her nap. If she is too tired at night to handle it, then wait two months until she is taking longer naps.