Are you the parent of a toddler who absolutely HATES brushing their teeth? Brushing your toddler’s teeth is one of the most difficult parts of raising a toddler, because, let’s face it, it doesn’t feel very good having someone jam a tooth-brush in your mouth. Below you’ll find some easy tips to end the toddler teeth brushing struggle for good!
The Toddler Teeth Brushing Struggle
Y’all, the toddler teeth brushing struggle is REAL. The majority of toddlers absolutely hate brushing their teeth. Actually, what they hate is having their parents brush their teeth for them. And letting your toddler do their own oral hygiene is definitely not recommended. Brushing their teeth can seem like an impossibility when your little one is clamping their mouth shut or screaming and struggling.
So what’s a mom to do? It’s definitely not an option to skip oral hygiene for the next few years, so you need a solution quick. Below are my top suggestions for ending the toddler teeth brushing struggle for good.
End the Toddler Teeth Brushing Struggle For Good
Whatever the parenting struggle, I always recommend starting by reading an age appropriate book. Stories help kids understand things much better than an adult telling them they HAVE to do something. Plus it’s great for literacy development.
Don’t just read the book you’ve chosen once. Make it part of the bedtime routine (try reading it right before tooth brushing time) until your child will let you brush their teeth.
Try any of these great options:
- Brush, Brush, Brush Your Teeth by Alicia Padron
- Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Brush by Che Rudko
- Caillou: I Can Brush My Teeth by Sarah Margaret Johanson and Pierre Brignaud
- The Teeth That Looked for a New Mouth: The Story of a Boy Who Didn’t Like to Brush His Teeth by Jill Jones
- Fabulous Farrah and the Sugar Bugs by Heather Finn
- T-Rex Brushes his Teeth by Dee Smith
Like books, watching a show about teeth brushing can make it seem more accessible for littles. If you can find an episode of your kiddo’s favorite TV show, you’re golden.
Here’s a few of our favorites:
- Daniel Tiger: Brusha Brusha! Season 1 Episode 17
- Elmo’s World: Teeth Season 32 Episode 4
- Bubble Guppies: A Tooth on the Looth! Season 2 Episode 8
- Doc McStuffins: Brontosaurus Breath: Season 1 Episode 26
- Peppa Pig Dentist Season 2 Episode 35
Songs are another great way to teach about the importance of brushing teeth. You may even want to play the song while you’re brushing.
Here are a few Youtube clips we like:
- Brush Along with Bud
- Seseame Street: Heathy Me Healthy Teeth
- Brush Your Teeth by Super Simple Songs
- Brush Your Teeth by PinkFong
If you can distract your child while doing the brushing, it usually works well.
Here are some things to try:
- Sing a silly song
- Let them watch a show (especially if you limit TV through the day, two minutes at bed isn’t going to hurt).
- Let them splash in the sink
- Brush in the tub while they’re playing
- Tell stories (I used to tell Goldilocks or Little Red Riding Hood but change the main characters to my daughters and family members, my daughter thought it was a riot).
Make It a Game
Kids love games and pretend play. Add an element of fun into your brushing.
Here are some ideas:
- Use the toothbrush to catch the sugar bugs
- Pretend there are animals or cartoon characters in your toddler’s mouth and you get them out with the toothrbush
- Play dentist office.
Some kids do best when an incentive is given. You can give a sticker or other small trinket once the job is done. You could read an extra bedtime story if they don’t put up a fight. Older kids could use a sticker chart and work to earn a bigger toy or other treat (movie theatre, special play date, etc.).
Our kids get to watch one TV show before bed. We pause it in the middle and do our bedtime routine. As long as there’s no fuss, they get the second half of the show. If they throw a fit, they go straight to bed.
One word of caution: be strict about these incentives. If your kid puts up a fuss, no reward, period. You have to have a firm line or they will push the limits every time.
Switch Up Your Gear
Sometimes some new teeth brushing gear can do wonders.
- Have your child accompany you to pick out a ‘big kid’ toothbrush with their favorite character on it.
- Try an electric toothbrush like the Firefly Light Up Toothbrush.
Don’t be afraid to try different toothpastes as well.
If your kid is two or under, try a training toothpaste, which are usually pretty mild.
Sometimes kids struggle with the foamy texture of toothpaste. Check the ingredients. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a foaming ingredient that is not necessary (according to my dentist). Try to find a toothpaste without it to make the texture more bearable.
A last ditch alternative would be a non-toothbrush alternative. Try these finger wipes. I would only recommend these to ids who have severe sensory issues and really can’t tolerate a toothbrush and toothpaste. If your child isn’t truly struggling, but is just a toddler being a toddler, it’s time for a little tough love (see below).
“Controlled choice” is one of my favorite parenting hacks, which will save you from some of the worst independent toddler battles.
Sometimes kids struggle because they don’t have a choice in the matter of teeth brushing. Allowing them some choice can alleviate the struggle.
Use the classic child psychology tactic and provide a “controlled choice.” The key here is that your kid doesn’t get a choice about brushing their teeth, but they DO get some choice during tooth brushing time.
Be sure to have at least two toothbrushes and toothpaste flavours on hand. Your child gets to pick the toothbrush and toothpaste (making these choices can distract them from not having a choice about teeth brushing). You can also have them choose which bathroom they’d like to brush in, or if they want mom and dad to help them.
Take Turns Brushing
Another way to give your child back some control is to let your child have a hand in the teeth-brushing. Of course, you will need to brush their teeth to ensure you clean them properly, but you can still involve them.
Here are three options:
- You have a turn, then they have a turn brushing their teeth (or they have their turn first)
- They brush your teeth, then you brush theirs
- They brush a doll’s teeth
Other Tooth-Brushing Hacks:
If you’re having trouble getting your child to open their mouth correctly, try having them make sounds. ‘Ahhh’ for brushing the back teeth and ‘Errrrr’ for brushing the front teeth.
Facetime with a family member during tooth brushing time and have them brush their teeth at the same time. Try an older cousin, or even a grandparent. Sometimes you need back-up!
One mom told me she would brush her son’s teeth in the bathtub while he bit down on a facecloth. She worked around the cloth. That was the only way he could handle a toothbrush in his mouth. If you have an extreme case, it might be worth a try.
Scare Tactics/Truth Time
Another option is to lay out the negative consequences of not brushing teeth. You could show your little one what a mouth of dirty or rotten teeth looks like.
As always, toddlers need to deal in concrete terms. Hearing you talk about cavities and rotten teeth is probably too abstract for most toddlers. A photo is more tangible.
This suggestion is really at your discretion. A sensitive child might not handle this very well. However, for some kids, it works wonders.
You can also adjust the grossness of the photo. Some kids may respond to a picture of yellow teeth, while others might need to see something slightly more graphic. Your call.
The fact is that brushing your child’s teeth is a vital part of keeping them healthy and is part of your job as a parent, whether they like it or not.
Think of it as you would a dirty diaper. Your toddler may not want to have their diaper changed. They may fight you. You might even have to pin them down in order to change it. They won’t like it, but you’re certainly not going to let them run around all day in a poopy diaper.
Teeth brushing is the same thing.
If you have to pin your child down to brush their teeth, so be it. Likely you’ll only have to do this a few times and they’ll realize they don’t have a choice in the matter.
If you give up every time they throw a fit, it only teaches them to throw a bigger fit next time.
Stay firm and they will get used to it quicker than you think.
So, those are my best tips to end the toddler teeth brushing struggle Good luck and stay strong, mamas!
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