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!
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.
2. Adapt the bathroom
Little adjustments to
When your child reaches the age where they can stand up on their own, they’re ready to stand at the sink.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
There are plenty of board books related to brushing teeth for toddlers and these are some of the best that I came across:
- Brush, Brush Brush by Alicia Padron
- Ready, Set, Brush by Che Rudko (for the Elmo lovers)
- I Love to Brush my Teeth by Shelley Admont
Related Post: 6 Benefits of Reading to Babies and Toddlers
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.
- Brush Your Teeth by Super Simple Songs
- Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me by Sesame Street
- Brush your Teeth by Nursery Rhymes
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.