Toddlers are the innovators, the adventurers and explorers. They love without restraint, and boy, do they throw some of the world’s most epic tantrums. If you have taken part in a toothbrushing “Mexican standoff,” then you know that your kid is going to be the making or breaking of you!
So just how do you get a toddler to brush their teeth?
Pause. Breath. It can be done…
In fact, brushing doesn’t have to involve drama. If anything, the more onboard your child is with their personal care and learning, the more they will come to love looking after their teeth!
Not convinced? We’ve asked some of the industry’s leading experts to share some of their tips on how to get your toddler involved:
Tiny acts of rebellion
Toddlers like to test the boundaries. Anything from refusing to eat a meal they had no problem eating yesterday to taking an age to get dressed, they will push your buttons to try and claim control. In short, they want you to know that it’s their mouth, not yours!
As challenging as your child may be, brushing their teeth is essential for their long-term oral health. What’s more, your toddler’s first set of baby or primary teeth are crucial foundations for their adult teeth to grow. According to pediatric dentist Farida Saher, “Baby teeth are very important for function, for aesthetics and for guiding the permanent teeth into the appropriate positions.”
Despite your toddler trying to lay down their autonomy, if tooth brushing is skipped or not done correctly, they will likely experience painful trips to the dentist, cavities, and tooth decay. Some tots even encounter speech development problems due to poor oral hygiene. With this in mind, Saher recommends brushing with an actual brush once your infant’s first teeth come in. That way, the bristles can get into the gum line and remove harmful bacteria before cavities can form.
While it is recommended that children and adults brush their teeth for two minutes, twice a day, doing it before bed is most important for your baby. As they sleep, bacteria can grow undisturbed, so any sugars leftover from milk or food give bacteria their favorite environment to grow.
Hello, first tooth!
Like Saher, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends brushing your child’s teeth as soon as their first tooth cuts. As soon as your child has a tooth, plaque can build on the tooth’s surface and, left unattended, can lead to decay.
When it comes to brushing your little one’s teeth, you shouldn’t delay. The best way to avoid resistance later on is to introduce brushing as part of your kid’s daily routine. Although it may feel challenging at first, the more you do it, the easier it will become.
Practice makes perfect, after all. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Use a small-headed, soft-bristled toothbrush to brush your little one’s teeth as soon as their first tooth appears. Hold them close while sitting on your lap as you brush, so they feel more confident. Try and brush at a 45-degree angle in a circular motion for two minutes. You only need a rice-sized amount of toothpaste until they are three years old – then you can increase the amount to a pea-sized amount. (A child’s electric toothbrush is great, but we recommend introducing these once your child is confident to brush their own teeth.)
- Lead by example – Want to know a secret to getting your toddler on side? Embrace fun, positivity and let them imitate you! Rather than demand your kid brush their teeth, turn it into a shared activity. Let them brush your teeth to see how it’s done, or let them copy you in the mirror. In a nutshell, children learn by copying their parents. Let them!
- Singing – your tot will not only get a kick out of you singing a catchy tune, but it reinforces the routine. Try and pick a song that can last for the recommended two minutes, like “this is the way we brush our teeth” to the Wheels on the Bus, or “up and down and all around, this is how we brush, brush, brush” to Twinkle, Twinkle.
- Take it in turns – remember fun makes the world go round, and it’s no different for your child! “It’s Mommy’s turn,” “now teddy’s”, and “now baby’s!”
Make sure that no food is left behind
Easier said than done, but it’s your job to make sure there is no food debris left in your toddler’s mouth after brushing. So after your child has got used to the feel of a toothbrush and has munched their way through the bristles, you need to help them finish the job.
Whether you turn brushing into a game and have to catch the missing elephant or “oh, I see what you did there! You hid a bit of pasta from me – I’ll just get that for you,” – you are essential to your child learning the basic skills of brushing.
What’s more, “all children are motivated by mastery, so let her feel good about her achievement of brushing even though at the moment you’re really the one doing it,” says Dr Laura from Aha! Parenting. That way, they will feel like they have achieved a huge milestone, even though you have helped them to get there.
On top of twice a day brushing, if your tot has two teeth touching, you should also aim to floss between them at least once a day.
The power of reward
As an adult, you might not understand why kids love stickers, but they are pure magic to a child. If you want them to learn how to use the potty, use the toilet, eat their greens, sort out a behavior issue, get them a reward chart, and fill it with stickers! Adding tooth brushing to the list just makes sense! What are you waiting for?
Choice is everything
Want to know the easiest way to get your toddler interested in toothbrushing? Offer them a kid-friendly toothbrush! Spark their interest with:
- Favorite TV or movie characters and animals
- Bright, flashing lights
- When they are ready, an all singing, all-dancing kids electric toothbrush that gets the job done quicker!
- Built-in timers that buzz when their two minutes are up
- Sucky feet to stick to the washbowl
- Some even glow in the dark!
You’ll likely find that your tot will engage more with one of their favorite characters. Whether it’s Despicable Me, Pokemon or a Disney Princess, there’s something for everyone!
Most parents find that an electric toothbrush is one of the best tools for avoiding drama while brushing. Not only does the toothbrush head do most of the work for you, but the additional 30-second buzzers remind your kid to change direction and keep brushing.
Children of all ages love a good story. It opens up their imagination, teaches them new words, lets them discover other cultures and helps them to understand the world around them.
Stories are the foundation of your tot’s learning and development. So add some books about tooth brushing into the mix!
When your little one hears about how Peppa Pig or Elmo has fun at the dentist or brushing their teeth, do you know what? They are going to want a slice of that action too! Hearing stories about characters that they love experiencing the same things will help your child normalize the situation.
Embrace mimicking behavior
As well as wanting to mimic and imitate your behavior, most toddlers like to mimic other kids too. Dr Laura suggests that watching videos with your child that show other toddlers brushing their teeth will “motivate kids even better than books,” as they will see brushing in action. Check out:
Elmo Toddler Brushing Teeth
Hey Duggee – The Tooth Brushing Song
Super Simple Monsters – Brush Your Teeth
Avoid the fight!
Toothpaste can be a bugbear for some children. It’s “too minty”, “too spicy”, or “it burns my tongue” have all been said by growing tots! If your toddler won’t take to toothpaste, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using plain water instead.
As your toddler grows, their taste buds will develop along the way. At this stage, the actual act of brushing is more important than having toothpaste on their brush. So the paste can wait!
Visit the dentist
From starting your baby’s tooth brushing journey to making brushing fun, you can be assured that the best advice and brushing tips can be found at your local dentist!
It is recommended that as soon as your child’s first tooth appears, you book them in for an appointment with the dentist. That way, they can get used to the experience early on and get to know their dentist. Fears and anxieties are often born out of our experiences as a child, so make the experience as enjoyable as possible!
Brushing your toddler’s teeth doesn’t have to involve drama! Keep it fun, positive and engaging, and your tot will learn to love looking after their teeth in no time!