How to Get Your Toddler to Brush Their Teeth

by | Jan 5, 2020

Is your strong willed toddler putting up a massive struggle when you attempt to brush their teeth? Trying to get a 1 year old to do anything that they don’t want to can be nearly impossible.

The struggle of brushing your toddler’s teeth may just be one of the most difficult parts of your morning or bedtime routine.

If you’re trying to break this habit of refusal, the first step is to find the problem that they’re facing. If it’s just stubborn child syndrome, you can work through that.

However, there could be deeper causes as to why your toddler gets so crazy when its tooth brushing time.

Perhaps he has a sensory aversion (dislike) to the soft/medium bristles, taste of the toothpaste, or feeling of something foreign in his mouth. It could be very bothersome to your child.

The hardest part is that they may not know what the problem is and even how to communicate it to you.

There could be other reasons too. Maybe they feel that they’re giving up too much control or that their bedtime is too late and they are just always cranky around that time.

It may be hard to pinpoint right now what the problem is, but if you look for signs of those issues, you may find your answer. Until you do, try some of the tips below to end the struggle of toothbrushing with your toddler.

Also, if you’re getting ready to start potty training, check out my detailed post on Tips to Potty Train your Toddler Even Before They’re 2!

This post may contain affiliate links which I would receive a small commission should you make a purchase. Please see disclaimer and privacy policy for full disclosure.

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and give your child the freedom they need to perform these self-care skills independently.

15 Tips to get your toddler to brush their teeth

Once you’ve identified why your child is refusing to brush their teeth, you can implement some of the following strategies and see which one works best. Sometimes all your child might need is a song or FaceTime with Grandpa!

1. Give them their independence

This is the age where your child is yearning to do everything on their own. It makes them feel so accomplished and independent which is great for their self esteem. It’s time to step back and let them take charge of some of their daily routine.

They may be struggling because they want to do it on their own and you’re just not letting them. I know you may feel like they’re not going to be as thorough and clean as you will be.

However, if you let them do a couple of brushes on their own, you should be able to intervene and take turns at a later time.

Related Post: Simple Activities You Should be Doing With Your 1 Year Old

2. Adapt the bathroom

Little adjustments to the space where they’re brushing their teeth can make a big difference. Are you still trying to hold your child hanging by the waist while you pry their mouth open and stick the tooth brush inside? That’s not going to work.

When your child reaches the age where they can stand up on their own, they’re ready to stand at the sink.

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and give your child control.

To make it easier for them, adapt your bathroom in such a way that makes everything reachable. We use a step stool and a sink extender to help my daughter reach the sink and feel independent.

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and give your child control.

We use this step stool in both of our bathrooms and my daughter loves it. It gives her enough height to see herself in the mirror, reach the running water, and stand up tall to properly brush her own teeth.

The sink extender is great for when she needs to wash her hands or rinse the toothbrush. It extends the water a bit closer so she can reach.

Related Post: How to Safely Child Proof Your House

3. Give them a choice

One of the best ways to end a toddler tantrum or struggle is to offer them a choice.

Toddlers don’t like to just be told what to do ALL DAY LONG. Put away your toys. Eat your broccoli. Put your shoes on. Don’t touch that. We don’t realize it, but we bark orders at them constantly.

A trick to get your toddler to feel more in control is to offer them a choice. Of course these choices are hand picked by you so either option will end up resulting in the same outcome. For example say:

  • You can choose the toothpaste. Do you want strawberry or grape?
  • Where do you want to brush your teeth? At the sink or in the tub?
  • What toothbrush do you want to use? Electric or regular?
  • When do you want to brush your teeth? Before or after your bedtime story?

Offering them a choice between 2 items will still give them a sense of control and help to reduce struggles.

4. Make it a family ritual

Your child may be more interested if you are brushing your teeth at the same time. Try getting the whole family involved and everyone brushes their teeth together.

5. Desensitize their mouth

Perhaps your toddler has a sensory issue that is making them so grossed out to brush their teeth. Try having them bite on a wet washcloth, silicone teether, or vibrating toy or chew on ice before you start brushing.

Related Post: 21 Calming Sensory Activities for your Overstimulated Toddler

6. Try new equipment

An extra-soft bristled toothbrush is the best way to go for small, sensitive toddler mouths. The Tom’s of Maine Toddler Toothbrush and Toothpaste set is a perfect fit for little mouths.

However, your child might seek something with a little more pizzazz to grab their attention.

I switched my daughter from a standard toothbrush to an electric one and now she begs me to brush her teeth! She loves feeling the vibration on her hands and in her mouth.

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and give your child control.

This electric toothbrush from Oral-B works great to get her motivation up. A lot of the time she will just hold the toothbrush in her mouth to feel the vibrations tickling her tongue.

That’s ok with me because at least she is getting acclimated with the brush.

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and give your child control.
You could also try a tooth brush that’s more fun to look at, like this one, with a ergonomic handle and bright, colorful silicone.

7. Use tasty toothpaste

Before your child is 2, they should be using non-fluoride toothpaste. They can begin to use fluoride once they are able to spit out the toothpaste on their own (around 2).

Tom’s of Maine has a variety of options for both fluoride and non-fluoride toothpaste. They are fruity flavors that your toddler will enjoy, and most importantly, contain safe ingredients for your little one.

8. Take turns

Your toddler may want to just grab the toothbrush from you and do it themselves. However, you know they aren’t truly accomplishing the best toothbrushing they can that way.

Take turns with your toddler by you starting to brush first, then they do a little, and back and forth. This way, you know their teeth are actually getting brushed well, but they’re still feeling in control.

Related Post: Tips to Potty Train your Toddler Even Before They’re 2!

9. Use distractions

This is just a normal thing parents do with toddlers all the time. Whether it’s tricking them into eating something or taking their attention away from a toy they’re crying for while out shopping, we are always distracting them.

It’s a good thing that a toddler’s attention span lasts only last 1-2 minutes because we can easily pull them into something else quickly.

Common distractions for any scenarios, but especially teeth brushing include:

  • Sing silly songs
  • Make funny faces/noises
  • Ask them questions
  • Have them point to parts of their body
  • Let them hold their teddy bear
  • Show them pictures in a book
  • Call a relative on FaceTime
  • Let them splash the water
  • Clapping

While you’re distracting them, it should be a little easier for them to tolerate you brushing their teeth or maybe they will even attempt to do it themselves.

10. Make it a game or silly story

Kids LOVE games. Make toothbrushing fun for your toddler by creating silly games to play. For example:

  • Have the toothbrush be an airplane zooming in and out of their mouth
  • Make it a race. Whoever brushes their teeth longest wins
  • Use an egg timer and they can’t stop brushing until all the sand runs out
  • Name all the colors around the room while brushing their teeth
  • Tell them there’s bugs inside of their mouth and you have to get them out fast!

11. Incentives and Reward Charts

Incentives are very motivating to a child. They will almost always do something for a reward.

If you know something that your child really likes, tell them they will get it after they brush their teeth.

Using a reward chart is highly motivating because it creates a visual understanding of the expectations and rewards.

I’m sure Ipad or TV time is always motivating. As is their favorite game, reading their favorite book, or extra playtime before bed. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something they love and don’t get all the time.

Tell them before, during, and after they brush their teeth, what prize they are earning.

The magnetic reward chart above is an awesome way to show your child what is expected of them.

As they go through their daily routine and responsibilities, they’ll get to put their own star on each day that they do that activity. They’ll love not only getting a star but putting it on the chart themselves.

You can decide on your own rules for how and when they receive a reward for all of the activities performed.

12. Routine Charts

Similar to the chart above, a routine chart is a more specific checklist of a daily routine. For example, this morning or bedtime checklist allows them to check off an activity as they do it.

My daughter has one of these and she absolutely loves getting to use the dry erase marker by herself and check it off when she’s done.

So when she gives me a hard time about brushing her teeth, I just say, you get to check it off your chart and she runs right in to get it done.

13. Appropriately themed books

Books can give a great auditory and visual idea of what the child should be doing. They may want to imitate what the model in the book is doing or just better understand what you’re asking of them.

Books with their favorite characters or brightly colored pictures are great for capturing their attention.

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and give your child control.

There are plenty of board books related to brushing teeth for toddlers and these are some of the best that I came across:

Related Post: 6 Benefits of Reading to Babies and Toddlers

14. Videos

YouTube is also another place to find educational content for your toddler. There are plenty of songs and videos that go along with any theme, toothbrushing in particular. The following videos have music and fun colors.

15. Pick a different location

Maybe the bathroom or sink is an intimidating place for them. Try brushing their teeth in a different spot in the house that may make them feel less afraid.

Locations such as:

  • In the bathtub
  • On their changing table
  • In the highchair after mealtime
  • In their favorite cozy chair

17. Don’t force it

Power struggles are never the way to get a toddler to do what you want. Take it easy and you will soon end the struggle of brushing your toddler’s teeth.

Related Post: 8 Reasons Your Toddler is Hitting and Biting and How to Stop It

Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and help your child feel more in control.
Trying to get your toddler to brush their teeth can be a tough struggle. Try these helpful tips to make it fun and help your child feel more independent and in control.

Hi I’m Marissa!

A mom of two little ones, here to provide some relatable experiences, tips, and tricks to the joys and challenges of pregnancy and childbirth through raising babies and toddlers.  Read more about me here.