• Sara Silvestri, MD FAAP

10 Ways to Get Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

As any parent knows, getting toddlers to do just about anything can be a challenge. Everyday as parents, we pick and choose our battles, but hygiene and teeth brushing in particular is something that we have to make a priority.

1. Make It Part of the Daily Routine

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice daily. Start with your children as early as possible. Make brushing teeth part of the wake up and bedtime routine so they know and expect it as part of their normal day.

2. Let Them Watch You Brush

We all know that toddlers love to mimic adults and there's nothing cuter than seeing a tiny person acting like a grown up. Brushing teeth is a great time to set an example for your children and again show that brushing teeth is part of normal every day life.

3. Give Them Choice

The toddler years are all about power struggles and toddlers wanting to be independent. Take them shopping and let them pick out 1 or 2 favorite toothbrushes and 1 or 2 favorite toothpastes. Let them choose which brush and which paste they want to use with each brushing. Giving them options and choices, helps them to feel like they are in control of at least part of this activity.

4. Play Detective

Early on, the goal is for their cooperation long enough to just get a quick swipe over the teeth and get them use to having someone else put the brush in their mouth. A great way to do this is explain that you need to search for something and the brush is helping you look. Oh my - there's a grape hiding behind this tooth! Wait - is that an elephant behind that one?

5. Make It Fun

There are tons of great videos online by some favorite cartoon characters with my favorite being Elmo's. Sing the songs the characters sing during brushing time or make up your own! Even just funny faces or silly noises will go a long way to getting a toddler to cooperate.

6. Everyone Needs to Have Their Teeth Brushed

Mommy brushes her teeth. Daddy brushes his teeth. You brush your teeth. You can also brush Teddy's teeth, your dump truck's teeth, your favorite doll's teeth....

7. Take Turns

Take turns brushing your teeth and their teeth. Everyone brushes their own for a little while and then "SWITCH" and you brush each others teeth. Having something stuck in their mouths is scary, but if you show them it's okay for them to do it to you, it reinforces that there's nothing to fear.

8. Everyone Armed!

Giving your toddler a toothbrush to brush with, play with, or just suck water off of can help while you are armed with your own and ready to brush when the opportunity arises. We enforce a strict no walking/running with the toothbrush rule which I would recommend but giving them some time to explore with the brush in a controlled environment is helpful.

9. Praise the Good Job

Every time they cooperate, even if it's just a few seconds in the beginning, praise that good behavior. We clap, we cheer, we yell "bravo." Positive reinforcement is very important with toddlers.

10. Sometimes They Win

There will be times, when they are teething, they don't feel good, or they are just particularly not in the mood, that it will not happen. Give it a try, but then walk away. Just as positive reinforcement is important, it's also important to avoid any significantly negative experience that will only reinforce that they are not going to let you brush their teeth. Don't give up though - try again tomorrow.

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