11 Surprising Tips for Toddler Teeth Brushing
Is toddler teeth brushing a daily struggle?
Or maybe you manage to brush your toddlers teeth once a day but are wondering if you need to up that to twice a day?
Perhaps you haven’t seen your toddlers tooth brush for a few days?
Tooth decay is the number one chronic illness for kids. Over 50% of children will have some tooth decay by age 5.
But let’s just be honest: Having your parent stick a prickly tooth brush with strong tasting goo on it, into your mouth and brush down really hard all over your teeth while holding your head and likely being a little grumpy, is not fun. For anyone!
Also, chasing your toddler around with a toothbrush, having to force this awkward tooth brushing on them and then still feel like you did more child upsetting than teeth cleaning, sure isn’t fun for us either!
Never mind that lingering fear of having to take your toddler, who hates brushing teeth and never sits still to a dentist.
Today we are going over 11 surprising tips for brushing your toddlers teeth that you have to try!
Is there a reason my toddler hates brushing teeth?
I think it’s normal to expect that your toddler won’t love brushing their teeth.
However sometimes there are underlying issues that make teeth brushing genuinely challenging for kiddos. Like:
- difficulty holding jaw open
- the sensation of the toothpaste or brushing feeling obnoxious
reflex of wanting to bite down
- over or under tactile sensitivity in the mouth
If it seems to cause them full on anxiety, excessive gagging might be worth it to be in contact with an OT or SLT to check for underlying sensory issues.
11 tips for brushing your toddlers teeth
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1. Games and activities to learn about brushing teeth
- Animal hunt game: searching for animals to clean off inside your teeth.
- Crafts of cleaning plaque off pictures of teeth
- Or you could build a giant mouth and show your tot how to scrub it clean
- I’ve also heard of some toddlers really being motivated by spitting target practice after finishing to brush their teeth
2. Stories and books
It’s useful to explain to your toddler the need to brush teeth through stories and books.
Your toddler may be better able to understand the need to brush their teeth when you are cuddled up before bed instead of standing in front of the sink.
Here are a few that I like:
3. Avoid a power struggle
and take a moment to empathise with your kid
- Give them choices:should they brush first or you, top or bottom first, which basin
- Don’t rush them: give them time to start while you stand by supporting
4. Habit Stacking
Your toddler needs to brush teeth twice a day: morning and night. Both of these times are notoriously full of “things to do” and it’s really easy to forget to brush their teeth.
An easy hack is to habit stack.
Add brushing teeth to something you and your toddler already have a consistent routine around.
For example: brush teeth after bath but before getting dressed, or after breakfast when washing face and hands.
5. Bring it down to their level
Often we overlook that reaching over the basin while standing on a step can feel awkward or uncomfortable or even challenge our toddlers’ sense of balance which just adds another challenge to the activity.
Try letting your toddler stand on a wider or firmer surface- like a chair instead of a step
Or lower the surface: think brushing teeth in a bowl on a chair or in the basin of a play kitchen
6. Compensate with a mirror and modeling
A great way to ease some of the stress of brushing teeth, make your toddler feel a bit more independant and allow them to understand what teeth brushing is all about is to let them brush your teeth.
Yip, it’ll probably be messy and uncomfortable but it will definitely get everyone giggling and give us a little more empathy for our kid.
Not a good fit for you? Try brushing your teeth first so your toddler can see how you do it and see how you don’t find it scary.
By reminding your toddler that they can look in the mirror it can help them to feel more aware of what’s happening when you or they are brushing their teeth.
7. Warming up the mouth: Oral motor exercises
Oral sensory awareness and motor development play a big role in teeth brushing as well as chewing and swallowing and speech.
A great way to encourage this development over all and prepare your toddler for teeth brushing is doing a mouth warm up before starting to brush teeth.
Think of it like facial yoga for your kids.
I have this printed and stuck on our birthday mirror for my toddlers to imitate each picture before brushing teeth.
Wolf blows, Fish does kissy lips, Lion roars with mouth open wide, dog growls with clenched teeth, cat licks with tongue out, monkey touches his nose with his tongue, fish puffs up his cheeks, and boy holds a wide smile.
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While it’s unlikely that your toddler will be able to effectively brush their teeth until they are 6 or older, I think it’s important that we allow some independence when it comes to brushing teeth.
It’s a way to get more buy-in and cooperation but it also gives you tons of opportunity to coach them on how to do it properly.
This may mean a lot of talking each time they brush and then you helping them do another round of brushing at the end.
At the end they will still get the 2 minutes of brushing in and you can focus on any areas they may have missed.
9. Type of toothbrush
So this is the golden question right.
None of us want to have to buy 8 toothbrushes and try out each on our toddler- we want to spend our hard earned money on something that can effectively clean their teeth and that your toddlers likes.
From working with kids in therapy is that 9/10 times, they prefer an electric toothbrush.
It provides a very strong sensation in the mouth which they generally enjoy and they don’t need to do that backwards and forwards brush.
I also find that when we are not doing that backwards forwards movement, we, their parents, tend to brush softer which is better for gum health.
It’s a bit controversial as to when you are allowed to use an electric toothbrush… Most tooth brush companies say age 3, but many dentists and parents recommend it from age 2.
The main point is that your young toddler needs full supervision and shouldn’t be biting the brush.
I’ve linked below a couple of my favorite brushes for you to check out.
Side note: Initially an electric toothbrush may seem a bit intimidating to your toddler. Slowly introduce them to the vibration sensation by letting them feel the toothbrush on their finger, hand, arm and cheek before attempting to brush teeth.
10. Type of toothpaste
We know that before 3 it’s supposed to be a rice grain sized amount of toothpaste and after it should be a pea sized blob and that we should check that it’s suitable for our toddlers age group (normally written on the front).
Finding the right toothpaste for your toddler is a bit of trial and error. I’ve linked a couple that I like below.
Some points to think about are the flavour, the color and any gimmicks that your kid might like- like glitter or a favorite character.
I strongly recommend tasting it first because naturally if you try out something new that tastes revolting it’s going to take any tooth brushing enthusiasm back a few steps.
11. Timer or counting
Kids don’t understand what you mean when you say “just 2 more minutes” that could mean all day.
It’s helpful to give them something reliable and easy to understand so they can measure time. Some ideas are:
- Oral B has a magic timer app designed for tooth brushing
- An egg timer
- A song that you sing together while brushing
- A clip that you play for them while teeth brushing
I hope these tips set you on a good path for brushing your toddlers teeth.