"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Taking the Battle out of Teeth Brushing

My two little girls toggle between being extremely independent  and wanting to be babied.  This is especially the case during teeth brushing time. Most days they  "must" do it themselves usually by sucking off the toothpaste (we use Tom's of Maine, for this reason) and chewing on the brush a bit.  Brushing is especially difficult for my 2 1/2 year old who truly believes that she does a fine job with her 5 quick strokes. We have talked about tooth bugs. We have talked about the practicality of taking care of our teeth. Sometimes this works but usually we let it go or they have some change of heart. I don't believe in coercing them into doing anything so creative ideas are always welcome for those few "must do" activities.

A mama writes:

How do you get your very young ones to brush their teeth? How old was your child when s/he starting brushing?

My 17 month old pinches her little lips closed at the mere suggestion. She seems interested when I brush my teeth, but will not even try to brush her own. I’ve tried every trick I can think of to make it fun, and even feigned disinterest (perhaps too late). Can you help? Does she need to be brushing now?

I have heard that when the first tooth pokes out, you can start some form of "brushing."  We regularly began once the girls ate foods. As far as "advice" for getting the deed done, I have heard that the taste of toothpaste can be extremely difficult for small ones. Perhaps a mild all natural brand like (Weleda or Tom's) or no toothpaste. I do feel making it a part of the daily routine is important even if they don't brush every time.  What has worked in your home?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

We really struggled at about that same age. We forgot about toothpaste until she was older and we focused on the scrubbing in those months. This is one of the fews times in my child's life that I have *forced" her to do something. We brushed teeth twice/day ALMOST no matter what. I do remember taking a couple of breaks (for a day or two) after particularly big struggles. Otherwise we just explained what needed to happen and did it. I find that it helps to think of every day as a new day rather than expecting her to fight the toothbrush like the day before. After a while she started choosing the easy way again (letting us help her brush rather than fight it). It's NOT our style to hold down our kids to make them do something but I feel VERY strongly about dental hygiene, this is a big issue for me so I often brushed against her will with lots of love before and after. Soooo glad that's over and dreading it with #2.

I just remembered that toothpaste actually ended up being what sold her on the idea. She had "brushed" her own teeth (played with a toothbrush while I brushed my own) since 5 months until about 17 months when the battles started. I bought her some toddler toothpaste and that sealed the deal. She couldn't wait to have toothpaste - just about half a pea size non-flouride.

My 2.5 year old and I still have issues when it comes to the brushing part. She makes her mouth do all sorts of things that hinder getting to the teeth and she really wants to do it herself. That being said, two things help me to get it done is we play the game "what did you eat today?" So she opens her mouth really wide and I tell her I can see down to her tummy and tell her what she ate and she thinks it's hilarious. It's long enough to get some good brushing in, but if we aren't talking about what she ate,then we sing the ABC's as the length of time it is for me to brush her teeth. It helps because she knows what to expect and then for her to brush we sing another song. Hope this helps.

We sang a song to make it more fun and also to take the struggle out of how long to brush. Didn't always work, but definitely helped.

My little one is 20 months old and we struggle with this too. What works 80% of the time is distraction, in any form. Sometimes I will show her pictures on the camera while dad brushes her teeth. Sometimes I let her brush my teeth while I brush her teeth. Sometimes we hang things off of her ears and suck them off with kisses while trying to brush. Yes, we've gone to desperate measures. And sometimes we get one or two swipes on a couple of teeth and have to let it go. It's either that, or make it a battle and I don't want to traumatize her with a toothbrush.

I feel that in the long run she'll come around and it will be part of the routine and its really not worth stressing over at this young age.

We have our daughters "open wide" and sing "ahhh" (so we can get to the back teeth) and "eeee" (so we can scrub the fronts). We sing along as we do it. Once my girls wanted to start brushing all by themselves I let them, but I always say I want to check their work and scrub over them again all the while oohing and aahing about what a great job they did.

My daughter is 11 months old, and has been "brushing" her teeth since the first two came in at five months of age.
She doesn't get toothpaste yet, just a wet toothbrush. I make sure to give her teeth a once-over myself, before taking the toothbrush away.
This subject made me laugh. When I was a child, my brother who is seven years younger than I, used to hate brushing his teeth...and my mom, who didn't want to force him to do it, would ask me to! So there I was, prying my three year old brother's mouth open so I could brush his teeth for him.
I hope I don't have the same issue with my kids! :)

UGH, I feel this pain! As I have told my husband, this is the one (so far) daily chore with my daughter that makes me lose my patience. I've had to walk out of the bathroom from the frustration!

That said - what's worked for us are the following, at different times:

Give her a toothbrush, let her suck off the toddler toothpaste in between getting swipes of my own.

Brush my teeth while also brushing her teeth, asking her to mirror my "funny faces" (also while she holds her own toothbrush - so, yes, three brushes in action at once - this also required that my husband held her up to the mirror, because she'd just run off if we put her down)

Laying her down across my lap in a "cuddly" cradle hold and asking her to say "ahhhh!"

Telling her I wanted to "tickle her teeth" and exclaiming wildly about what i was seeing in there.

Let her brush my teeth while I brush her teeth. This resulted in a brush to my eye at one point, but it did work for a short time!

Good luck! I am really paranoid about childhood tooth decay, so this is one of those "choose your battle" moments that I've, in fact, chosen ...

This is a multi-step process. Cheerful toothbrush and paste chosen by toddler (mine is 2). After many arguments we have a plan that she brushes her teeth in the morning and I get to brush them before bed. I set the timer for 1 minute and she brushes for the whole minute, no taking brush out or running etc (2 minutes was too difficult for her). At night I remind her that this is my turn and she gets to do it in the morning.
Also, I recently bought an electric toothbrush for her. It is shaped like an ice cream cone and she loves the funny feel and her teeth come much cleaner much faster.

We have a 3 year old, and this has only recently become an easy task for us twice a day. I will say that up until probably 6 months ago, we tried to brush twice a day and if we got in there for more than a few swipes we called it good. When he was little (1 year-ish) he went through a phase where he was obsessed with everything toothbrushing, and then that got old fast...so we had lots of battles for a good while. We tried to keep it light and focused more on the routine of doing it every day than really getting in there and scrubbing every tooth. We took him to the dentist for the first time last year and worried that we hadnt been doing enough, but the dentist said we were all doing fine. For the last 5-6 months, it's not a big deal--he opens wide, lets us do our thing, he takes a turn and then we're done--hopefully that trend is here to stay!

New toothbrushes and toothpaste were always (although shortlived) exciting incentives. We tried some of the battery operated spin brushes and while we figured they probably get more brushing done in a short period of time, the vibration also tickled his lips and nose so it became a distraction. We've gone back to the old fashioned manual brush.

Good luck, I'd say focus on the routine of it and dont worry too much, she'll probably come around.

I think his electric toothbrush, shaped like a fire engine, helps a lot! With the electric, the brushing is better, too.
And I am not an electric toy kind of person ... we don't even have a microwave or dishwasher ... but I really like electric toothbrushes.

Well, this subject & comments section has renewed my faith in all the great moms on this blog. You guys hit the nail on the head, as far as recommendations I would have made as a practicing dental hygienist in a heavily "pedo" practice. I would just second the suggestions of using water, instead of toothpaste, if you're afraid of swallowing, and if you want to use toothpaste as an incentive, get a non-fluoride version.

Another thing I'd add is if you want to actually make some contact with the teeth/gums every once in awhile & your kid won't let you ("purses" her lips as my 18 month old does!), put a wet washcloth over your finger and you can get in there and "scrub" gently with it without hurting them. Once Claire knows she can't keep me out, she usually relaxes and feels the washcloth on her gums and seems to kind of like it.

Overall, though, as long as you're limiting refined sugars and avoiding continuous exposure to juices, etc (sippies should hold water if carried around), most kids will benefit more from the habit of "brushing" than the real need for plaque removal.

Good job, moms. I love this website!

Having been raised by a dental hygenist, teeth are super important to me. I love my dentist. I'd go every month if I could.

I started brushing DD's teeth before she had any. We used one of those finger brushes. It wasn't easy but it was worth it.

Now, she's 1 1/2 and LOVES her toothbrush. Sometimes we "help" her and sometimes she brushes by herself (which mostly means sucking the flouride-free paste off the brush but at least she chews it).

She loves to emulate our electric toothbrushes. Imitates the sound and everything.

One note -- don't use your toothbrush to brush your child's. If they are interested (yea!), switch brushes or toothbrush heads when you brush your child's teeth. Otherwise you introduce various germs (cavity & plaque producing) to your child's system. It's a simple thing to avoid if you know to do it. DD loves our electric brushes so we just keep an extra head that is designated for her. Flouride-free toothpaste is kept in her bathroom as well as ours for convenience.

Also, don't forget to give your child flouride if you live in an area where it isn't in the water (PDX, for instance). It makes a huge difference in teeth. DH grew up without flouride and has cavities galore. I grew up with flouride and have none. Granted, I had the benefit of a mom who was a hygenist but when we moved to a well-water system, I rec'd flouride pills. Besides cavities, my teeth are dramatically stronger than DH's. I know it's controversial but this is really important, especially for low-income families. Dental health impacts overall health and the fact that PDX does not have flouridated water is a huge detriment to low-income families. In an area that is so progressive in so many ways, this kills me. It is such an easy thing to do for so many and yet we don't. We owe it to our community, especially those who don't have insurance, to provide flouridated water.

Sorry to go off topic, but I would love to hear more conversation about the OP phrase of not believing in "coercing" the child in to doing anything. I don't think I understand that. Aren't some things just non-negotiable or am I misunderstanding? Probably another topic, but if I'd be interested in hearing more about this idea.

Our son likes for us to sing fun songs while we brush, but we only do it if he is cooperating.
Also, when he is fussing (more often when he's tired) we offer a choice: easy way or hard way? The hard way is what we resort to if he doesn't cooperate by the count of 5. and it's rather forceful. The easy way is gentle and fast and then there's time to play afterwards before night-nights or nap, another great bargaining chip. He usually makes the right choice unless utterly exhausted and melting down. Which is always a travesty; never wait that long!

Speaking of not waiting - do begin with a finger and clean warm cloth to rub the gums even before teething if it's not too late, to get them used to a 'gum massage' as early as possible.

Around 2 1/2 or 3 it gets easier but then around 5 they are bored with it and you are back to the battles about brushing just in a different way and this time special toothbrushes and toothpaste are so "boring" as my daughter loves to say. At least now since she is 5 I have regular visits to the dentist and hygenist to back me up with all my nagging.

We have a "toothbrushing song." We sing THAT and make a brushing sound----ch-ku-ch-ku-ch-ku combined with our own made-up sign for brushing. We do this whenever we are getting reading to go brush, as we are getting out the toothbrush and putting on our WELEDA salt toothpast....NO FLOURIDE OR SLSs!

We always brush our teeth as a family. Bram sees us having fun, being together, brushing our teeth. Sometimes he reaches for MY brush and gives my teeth a cleaning. Then I reach for HIS and we do that for 15 seconds or so. He will brush up to about 2 minutes on a good day.

I always hold him on my left hip. We look at each other in the mirror..make faces...send love to each other. I never rush him if it is working. If he wants to quit early, I may put another TINY, TINY bit of toothpaste onto the brush. HE LOVES THE TASTE!
(He also eats anything!)

After brushing, we fill up the brush a couple of times with some icy-cold water and rinse. Then we always rinse our brushes, tap out the water and put them back into the cabinet. Sometimes it is tempting to skip some of the routine....then I tap into that warrior mommy and just do it! We do the same thing every single time. Never a fuss...at least not yet. He is 14 months old and has a dentist uncle in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

1. Read about organic and NON-organic flouride in the BRAGG book about water.

2. Read books by Kevin Trudeau.

3. Go to the site TheDoctorWithin.com---enter the site and go to the "chapters."

4. While you are there, read about the devasting effects of chlorine!

Tooth brushing clicked around 14 months. Our daughter is 18 months now. While she is not enthusiastic about brushing, she knows it is part of the nighttime routine and is going to happen every night. We live in Honolulu which does not have fluoridated water so we give her the fluoride first which she considers a treat. So nightly dental hygiene starts off on a positive note. We discovered that brushing is much less of a struggle if she is lying on the bed and I can see her teeth much better. I tell her I am going to brush her teeth. She usually wants to grab the toothbrush, but I remind her that she can brush after I brush (but I like Juliette's suggestion about letting them brush first and then she doing a final check - also like the "what did you eat today" game idea). Then I count to 3 so knows the toothbrush is going to her mouth. And then I say aaaaaahhhhhh. Sometimes it takes her a few moments to get in the groove, but soon enough she will open wide and often has to take a breather or two. When it goes quickly and smoothly I emphasize how easy and fast it was after saying All Done You Can Brush Now.

We use the Jason/Earth's Best toddler toothpaste.

We don't have a morning dental routine (as if we could fit in one more thing!), but she often comes in the bathroom and asks to brush her teeth and asks me to brush at the same time. So we "brush" and I never insist that I do the brushing then.

She loves apples. So we give her apple slices throughout the day and water afterward. It seems an apple can "scrub" the teeth, but we also don't want the sugar sticking to the teeth.

We started doing Spiffies when she got her first tooth at 11 months. She chewed on a toothbrush too, but I counted on the Spiffies to do most of the work. At some point we stopped the using the Spiffies regularly, but we will have one occasionally if she sees them on the shelf and asks for one. But you do have to be careful to not get a finger chomped on.

A dentist told me that brushing right after she has the fluoride helps the fluoride make contact with the teeth and that it is the external exposure that is most important, not the dietary intake absorbed into the bloodstream. However, I have also heard whispers from the pediatric dentists and pediatricians that the ADA guidelines are going to be changed to say that oral fluoride does not have a positive effect in toddlers (children under 3 I think) so not to use it, but that they CAN use a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste. ??????

With sharing kisses, food, spoons and more, I don't think it is really possible to not share dental bacteria with the kiddos.....

One thing I've done with my 18 month old is to have multiple toothbrushes. I bought 3 of the same kind of toothbrush (in different colors). That way he has one in each hand and then mommy has one too! This also gives a 'choice' in toothbrushing. He can 'choose' which color toothbrush to use. So while the activity of brushing teeth is not optional, the color choice gives him a way to express his opinion rather than just saying 'No!'.

We play a little game when brushing my 2.5 year old's teeth. We talk about brushing away everything she ate that day, starting at breakfast and working all the way up to dinner. "Bye bye, oatmeal! Brush away the macaroni..." etc. She's always been pretty amenable to brushing her teeth, but this has helped us to do a more thorough job.

I have to admit that although I generally don't force my children to do things, toothbrushing is not negotiable. OK, so if they fall asleep on the way home from a late night event then we skip it. But it is part of the bedtime routine. sometimes we do it in front of the TV, sometimes in bed, sometimes in the bath, and, yes, sometimes on the floor with me straddling them. We usually don't use toothpaste, they just don't like it. Sometimes a game helps but most of the time it's just "let's get this done so we can read some storybooks". The oldest quit fighting it at about 3, the youngest is now 21 months & some days she'll sit still.

The comments to this entry are closed.