How to Get a Toddler to Brush His Teeth

I’ve never really had any trouble getting Aristotle to brush his teeth.  Whether he’s just naturally compliant with toothbrushing or whether we’ve just managed to hit it right from the start, I really don’t know.  Anyway, since I am a former dentist, it seems odd not to share some of what I know about looking after children’s teeth.

I think every parent will agree that it is a challenge to get a toddler to do anything you want them regardless of what the task may be.  Even if I have never really had much of a problem getting Aristotle to brush his teeth, I do know it can be tough for some parents.  So here are some tactics which we incorporate that might have contributed to Aristotle’s compliance.

1. Let Your Toddler Pick His Own Brush and Paste

Toddlers are going through a phase where they are struggling for autonomy. Being given the chance to select their own toothbrush and toothpaste can help them feel empowered and “grown up”. Sometimes being the ones to choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste is enough to encourage them to brush their teeth because they were actively involved from the outset.

These days, there is a large variety of toothpastes and toothbrushes for children available. To help facilitate your toddler’s decision-making, select two brushes and two tubes of toothpaste before presenting it to your toddler to make the final choice, otherwise you might find yourself in the shop for the rest of the day while your toddler tries to make up his mind.

Aristotle loves picking out new brushes and toothpaste and he loves using a new toothbrush even more.  Sometimes I have to hide his new brush until it’s time to change toothbrushes to avoid getting into a fight about using the new brush.   

2. Offer Toothbrushes with Your Toddler’s Favourite Characters

With the large variety of toothbrushes for children available these days, it is almost impossible not to find one with a character that appeals to your toddler. Sometimes the idea of being able to brush with a Pooh toothbrush or a Mickey toothbrush can be enough to entice a toddler to brush his teeth.

Lucky for us, we’ve been able to get by with the Mickey and Pooh brushes.  Don’t think I’ve seen a Thomas toothbrush around yet – although I did see Thomas and Friend toothpaste in the Korean supermarket in Hartamas once.

3. Interesting Toothpastes

These days, children’s toothpastes also come in a variety of “favourite” flavours. Let your child pick the flavour he likes best and you will find greater cooperation when it comes to brushing time. The unfortunate downside to this is that it also encourages toddlers to eat the paste rather than simply brush with it. For this reason, it is important to screen your toddler’s toothpastes to make sure they are fluoride free or have low fluoride content (although most children’s pastes these days are limited to 500ppm of fluoride which is half the concentrate of adult toothpaste). Fluoride, though excellent for preventing tooth decay, is not intended for regular consumption through toothpastes.

Alternatively, toothpastes that come in different colours might be more exciting to your toddler than the standard “white” toothpaste. Gel pastes are usually a hit – although you should first make sure that the mint is not too hot for your toddler.

4. Give Your Toddler a Free Reign

Although toddlers have poor manual dexterity and probably will not do a good job of brushing their teeth, sometimes it helps to hand over the brush and let them attempt to clean their teeth on their own. You can always take over towards the end to make sure the job is done well.

5. Rewards

Offering a sticker or reward for each brushing experience can sometimes produce results. With an older toddler you can create a sticker chart where your toddler earns a sticker every time he brushes. Once x number of stickers have been collected, you can reward your toddler with a bigger prize.

6. Brush Together

Some toddlers like to mimic their parents’ actions. If Daddy is brushing his teeth, your toddler may also be willing to do the same.  I’ve often found that if Aristotle sees me brushing my teeth, he’ll ask for his toothbrush so he can brush his teeth, too.

7. Positive Reinforcement

There are lots of children’s programs and books showing favourite characters cleaning their teeth. If your toddler is particularly stubborn about cleaning his teeth, make sure you watch some of these programs or read these books together. Then when it comes to brushing time, you can remind your toddler how his favourite characters brush their teeth to keep them clean and healthy.

Toddlers, though often challenging to handle, are not completely unreasonable. When given the right motivation, you can often encourage them to do most of the things you want them to.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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