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9 Steps to Successfully Brushing Your Toddler’s Teeth

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While all parents can agree that brushing their children's’ teeth is important, getting reluctant toddlers to do it twice daily can be a challenge. Especially when you don’t want to force the habit. How can you get your toddler excited about their daily oral hygiene routine?

Below are several tips that can give parents an idea for changing up their children’s teeth routine, and making a mundane activity more appealing. And in addition to daily teeth maintenance, be sure to find a dentist to offers preventative dentistry for children so that your toddler will feel comfortable and safe during regular visits.

1. Set the Stage

Find a time that your child is most open to the task when he/she isn’t too tired or cranky. You can also play with the setting if the bathroom is too difficult a stage. Try brushing your toddler’s teeth in the bath, kitchen, backyard, or wherever else is appealing! Just be sure to tell your child that the toilet is no place for oral hygiene, since that should be kept as a separate activity. The toilet can house some serious bacteria that you don’t want getting onto your kid’s toothbrush and into his or her mouth.

2. Make It Playful

Children do not want to brush their teeth when they see it as a chore. Try offering fun aspects to the routine to entice them to look forward to brushing their teeth at night. Some ideas include:

  • Bringing a favorite stuffed animal or puppet to the bathroom and pretend to brush his/her teeth.

  • Use sounds that your child likes, like airplane sound effects, to encourage them to finish brushing their teeth.

  • Use a fun toy as a timer, with a song that plays and potentially lights up.

  • Keep pictures of your child’s favorite cartoon characters in their bathroom, brushing their teeth is ideal!

3. Keep It Short

Forcing your child to brush his or her teeth for two minutes is not a good way to encourage them to stick to daily toothbrushing. Dentists encourage parents to focus on teaching their children correct brushing techniques, and then lengthen the amount of time brushing as kids grow older.

4. Try a Game of Copycat

Toddlers begin mirroring their parents’ behaviors as soon as they are able to recognize them. Use this to your advantage, and let your toddler watch you brush your teeth at night. By the time he or she is old enough to start brushing teeth, you will have laid the subliminal messaging.

5. Make It Part of the Routine

Establish brushing your toddler’s teeth as a part of the nightly routine. Keeping a list and checking off the completed tasks is a good way to positively reinforce oral hygiene behavior. Including it alongside bedtime story, bath time, and snuggle time, will associate brushing teeth with more favorable activities. This way, you can make oral hygiene less of a chore and more of a daily milestone.

6. Skip the Toothpaste

Many toddlers dislike toothpaste when they first begin brushing their teeth. It is messy and can make them gag. Dentists say that toothpaste is not vital for toddlers when they first start to brush their teeth. Instead, focusing on technique and establishing healthy behaviors is more beneficial, so that when toddlers do start to use toothpaste, they are more likely to continue brushing twice a day.

Another option is to try different kinds of toothpaste. Children’s toothpaste comes in various colors and flavors, and many feature superheroes and animated characters. Try giving your child an option with toothpaste, and see if he or she enjoys one more than the rest.

7. Let Your Toddler Take Charge

Brushing your teeth can be a scary task if you have no authority over the task. Letting your toddler take a lead on as much of the process as possible is a great way to give them the opportunity to feel more confident. Some various ways to do this are:

  • Take your toddler toothbrush shopping to choose his or her favorite. A great option for fidgety toddlers is battery-operated brushes, which can help them reach the far places, and make the experience more fun.

  • Letting your toddler brush his or her own teeth, and stepping in to help then “finish up”

  • Giving your child the option to choose when to brush his/her teeth. Give a few options (before bath time, after breakfast, etc.), and let him/her decide.

8. Make Oral Hygiene a Priority

If you try to squeeze teeth habits into a busy schedule, they will likely slip and give way to other tasks. It is therefore important to show your toddler the importance of brushing his or her teeth and make it a priority every morning and night. This way, it will be ingrained in your toddler’s adult schedule, and establish lifelong healthy habits.

9. Make Regular Visits to the Dentist Fun

Visiting your toddler’s pediatric dentist every two months can be another opportunity to encourage healthy behaviors. Finding the right dentist with games and a fun waiting room can be an incentive to look forward to visits. A good pediatric dentist will also show your children fun ways to brush their teeth, and teach them why it is important to do so regularly. Understanding the importance of why is key to your toddler’s adherence to toothbrushing.

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Don’t Force Your Toddler. Can cause phobia or resentment for oral hygiene later in life.

  2. Don’t Tell Your Toddler Myths. If you punish your toddler by telling him or her about horrible, untrue things that can happen when teeth go unbrushed, this will also set him/her up for bad habits in the future. Fear should not drive oral hygiene habits.

Don’t Scold Your Toddler. Use positive reinforcement to get your toddler interested in oral hygiene, and don’t resort to negative punishment or scolding when he or she refuses. There may be an underlying reason that your toddler doesn’t want to brush his or her teeth, so instead, try talking the feelings out.

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