How Do I Get My Toddler to Brush Their Teeth?

It is totally appropriate for developing toddlers to seek to do things independently. Toddlers are known to say and express “I want to do it by myself!” in many different ways, especially when it involves something they are not thrilled about or used to doing! It can seem difficult to get your child to brush their teeth or to care about their oral health, but do not give up, you can get them to love it!

The main reason why toddlers may possibly resist brushing is because they don’t fully understand the importance. Their brains are busy forming and compartmentalizing good from bad, and unfortunately, having someone else putting a brush in their mouth and moving it around can seem scary or feel uncomfortable.

As soon as they have a tooth, introduce your child to an age appropriate toothbrush. This helps orient them to the texture and feeling.

Sometimes they would rather be doing something else!

Alas, do not give up hope! Start small and continue reinforcing good brushing habits. They will all brush eventually.

Top 7 Tips for Instilling Great Brushing Habits for your Toddler

Making your toddler accept, let alone love, brushing their teeth daily can seem like a daunting task. Still, if you follow these tips, brushing should become a welcomed task every day.

Set a Good Example; Your Child is a Copycat

Children in the ‘toddler’ age bracket love learning by copying the actions of others. Sometimes this results in the hilarious “I can’t believe my child just did that” moments. Still, if the appropriate behavior is copied, it can be a breakthrough. Be sure to model healthy oral health habits by brushing twice a day and flossing daily.

When you brush your teeth, have your toddler brush their teeth at the same time; nine times out of ten, they will begin to copy you. Now, they will not do a thorough job, but be happy with the starting point and know that this is teaching your toddler that they oversee brushing their teeth. You will have to go back over their teeth, re-brushing to make sure no sugar bugs are hiding anywhere, which leads us to our next tip.

Check to Make Sure There Are No Sugar Bugs Hiding

It is so important not to dismiss the great job that your toddler did brushing their teeth; doing so can have an adverse effect. Make sure that you give adequate praise for a job well done and tell your toddler that you are merely making sure that no ‘sugar bugs’ are hiding anywhere.

If you do find sugar bugs, which you will, make up a fun story relating to whatever you had for dinner, “I see a sugar bug left over from the pasta we had for dinner hiding way back there. I’ll get that for you!”

Your toddler thrives on being recognized for their accomplishments, so try your hardest not to neglect giving praise. Over time, they will get better and better at caring for their teeth.

Short and Sweet

Attention spans are precious during these years, so it is best practice to keep teeth brushing times to a short period of time. Brushing your teeth only takes two minutes twice a day, so try presenting it to your child that way. If they willingly let you brush their teeth, then it will only take two minutes, but if they start crying, becoming upset, or saying no it could take up to 30 minutes!

It’s More Fun to Have Fun

Who doesn’t want to have fun, and why can brushing your teeth not be fun? We know that it CAN be fun; all that it takes is a little imagination! When it is time to brush your toddler’s teeth take notice of how you present the action, especially the tone of your voice.

Another great way to have fun is to make up a game; we suggest tapping into your child’s favorite words at the current moment. If we had to guess, we would venture to say it would be something along the lines of, “My Turn” or “Me Too.” These phrases tie back into the central theme of your child feeling as if they have ownership of a vital part of their lives.

When it is time to brush your toddler’s teeth, have them bring their favorite stuffed animal. Have your child ‘brush’ the stuffed animal’s teeth, then your teeth; at this time, your child will want to be included and will most likely start saying, “My Turn” expecting to do it next.

Your toddler might reach for their toothbrush and start ‘brushing’ their teeth; let them! Your end goal is for them to brush their teeth, right?

Make sure to go back and check for any leftover sugar bugs once they are finished brushing. Be sure to give lots of praise every time your child does a great job brushing!

Sing-a-longs Are a Parent’s Best Friend

Your toddler’s favorite song; we are sure that you have heard it a million times and want to scream if you are forced to hear Baby Shark one more time, but we urge you to take your child’s favorite song and turn into a teaching tool.

Have your toddler brush their teeth while listening to their favorite song. When the song is over (remember only brush for 2 minutes at a time), then their brushing is over.

If you cannot stand to hear that insanely catchy tune more than you already do, we understand! There are plenty of songs dedicated to fostering great tooth brushing habits; you can even use some of Mrs. Shannon’s famous Tooth Talk songs.

Busy little toothbrush brushing all my teeth. Brushing all the top ones, brushing underneath.
Swish, swish, swish some water; this is kinda fun. Teeth are clean and shiny; toothbrush is almost done…”

Don’t rush when you brush take your time (clap, clap, clap)
Don’t rush when you brush take your time (clap, clap, clap)
Cause if you rush when you brush, then your teeth will turn to mush
Don’t rush when you brush take your time (clap, clap, clap)

Or Dr. Leach’s favorite, an oldie but a goodie dating back to 1998…

Brush all the way around the outside, brush all the way around the inside and where you chew. Don’t forget to brush your tongue too” (repeat for both top and bottom teeth)

Some other great examples are The ABC’s song, Wheels on the Bus, or Happy Birthday! These songs will be sure to get your toddler excited about brushing their teeth and dancing along to the beat.

Read Books About Their Favorite Characters

You’ve read them and love them. Everyone’s favorite cartoon characters go to the dentist at some point or another, and they always have the best time. These are PERFECT stories for your child to read to help them understand the importance of brushing, and if you’re lucky, they will start imitating their favorites.

Make Brushing an Integral Part of Their Daily Routine

Now that we have talked about different fun ways to get your toddler excited about brushing their teeth, it is time to talk about a serious one. You are the parent, and it is your job to ensure that your toddler’s oral health has a good foundation to set them up for a lifetime of oral health success.

Keep a drawer with brushing supplies in your kitchen/downstairs area so you can brush their teeth before naps, before school, before fun afternoon outings, or after meals!

It will not always be fun trying to instill a new positive habit in your toddler; isn’t it unfortunate that the bad habits seem to stick like glue, but the good habits seem impossible? TO brush toddler’s or any young one’s teeth, Dr. Leach suggests having your child lay back in your lap. This will help them get used to doing it at the dental office and it helps parents see what they are doing in your child’s mouth.

However, if you make your toddler brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes and are consistently using positive reinforcement, teeth brushing will soon become a part of their daily routine that they do not think twice about.

Contact Dr. Leach’s Pediatric Dentistry

Give our Alpharetta, GA pediatric dentist office a call today at 770-521-8855 to speak with one of our knowledgeable team members about any questions that you might have regarding your toddler’s teeth brushing habits. If you are ready to schedule an appointment, fill out our online appointment request form or give us a call.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Michael J. Leach D.D.S. Pediatric Dentistry!

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