Toothbrushing Tips and Tricks to Entice a Resistant Toddler
My two-and-a-half-year-old has four cavities and hates brushing his teeth. What are some toothbrushing tips and tricks to help him understand that he needs to brush?
I still remember the tooth-brushing tricks I had to come up with. They included fun songs (“Brusha, brusha, brusha”) and goofy facial expressions that I reserved only for toothbrushing time. Eventually, my toddlers got to love my antics so much that they somewhat overcame their reluctance to open their mouths and let the toothbrush in. Some toddlers have weak enamel – this seems to be an inherited trait. If your two-and-a-half-year-old already has four cavities, then that could be the case. Try these toothbrushing tips and general dental care strategies:
Only Allow Water at Night
- If your child still needs a bottle of milk or formula during the night be sure to brush his teeth first thing in the morning. It is best to only allow water in the bottle by this age. You can gradually water down the milk/formula until it is only water. If your child breastfeeds try to not let him fall completely off to sleep with your nipple in his mouth. Easier said than done but try to see that he swallows the milk from that last suck. That way it doesn’t pool around his teeth. Milk pooling around the teeth is more likely from a bottle.
Make Toothbrushing Fun!
- There are all kinds of ideas to make it fun besides the ones above. Maybe you can use a hand puppet he likes to hold the toothbrush or have him brush his favorite stuffed animal’s teeth first when it’s time to have his own brushed.
Fingertip as a Toothbrush
- If your child will let your finger into his mouth but not a toothbrush, use your moistened gauze-wrapped fingertip as a toothbrush. Your toddler may be more likely to accept your familiar finger rather than a toothbrush. (When this practice is started when the first tooth shows up, you’re ahead of the game – but it’s never too late to start.)
Capitalize on the Copycat Stage
- You want him to get the message that tooth-brushing is fun. Encourage your child to: “Brush your teeth just like mommy is doing.” Make a fun song that includes: “I’m brushing the sugar bugs off my teeth.”
Create an Association
- Show him pictures of kids, or even cartoon characters, with “pretty teeth” and a “pretty smile.” That helps him associate tooth-care with pretty teeth.
Put Him in a Good Mood
- Do something that gets them in a silly mood first like dancing to his favorite song, and keep the brushing short and sweet by saying, “ok, I’m going to check and see make sure there isn’t any food hiding,” and only brush until the song is over.
Choose Healthy Toothpaste
- There are a lot of kinds of toothpaste on the market, such as Tom’s of Maine, that provide a naturally pleasant taste and mouthfeel. Avoid toothpaste that is sweetened with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and food colorings. And just use a tiny dab of toothpaste since toddlers tend to swallow most of what’s put on their toothbrush. Or try toothbrushing without toothpaste. Some may also choose toothpaste without fluoride. We advise you to consult your pediatrician and pediatric dentist for more information, as there is much debate about this and new information always becoming available.
Soften the Toothbrush
- To soften the toothbrush run the bristles under hot water for around ten seconds and then let it cool for a few seconds.
Try a Poxy Brush
- Toddlers typically don’t need to “floss” at this young age, but you can try a proxy brush, which looks like a tiny “Christmas tree,” and fits gently between the teeth, like a toothpick. This tool allows you to softly massage the area where the teeth meet the gum, called the sulcus. This is the area that accumulates much of the cavity-forming sticky stuff.
The “Two on One” Technique
- Try “two on one” toothbrushing. I remember one of our toddlers was so reluctant that Bill and I discovered this method. We would sit knee-to-knee in front of one another. Bill would secure our child’s legs and hold his hands, and I would cup our toddler’s jaw with one hand while I brushed the teeth from above. Eventually, our toddler felt, “Why should I fight it? They’re going to brush my teeth anyway. I might as well relax and let them do it.” Move quickly – even a 10-second brushing is better than none.
Avoid Sticky Foods
- Avoid dried fruit/raisins and other gummy, sticky foods. Even vitamins are now being repackaged as “chewies” rather than gummies. And BEWARE of chewable vitamins that contain Vitamin C. Don’t use that kind at all. Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and that would not be good for a toddler with enamel that has already eroded.
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Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”