Monday, March 29, 2010

Brushing Teeth?

The Question:

So I have a 20 month old daughter. For the longest time brushing her teeth was a breeze-even fun almost. I'd give her a toothbrush with toddler toothpaste and she'd suck it all off (of course) and then I'd go in with my own tooth-pasted toothbrush and actually do some brushing. Lately though, she'll want both toothbrushes to suck on, and clamps down refusing to let me anywhere near her teeth. I know it's really important to brush her teeth, but I can't seem to get her to understand that and let me help. I've tried singing songs and getting her to say 'ahh' but every time the toothbrush comes near her mouth, it shuts. I get so angry that today I actually had to walk away and make my husband do it. Help?!?


The Answer:

Dear Emily,
Tooth brushing is not my very best area. I am in awe of parents who are faithful and whose children have no cavities. I've tried to follow a good bedtime routine. My very best success came when I hung a little chart in the bathroom with our night time routine on it. The children would move their magnetic little animal up the chart as they accomplished each of their bedtime tasks: get a drink, go to the bathroom, brush teeth, read a story, say prayers, stay in bed. If they did it all for five nights in a row, they would get a prize. Maybe that would work for you. The "brush teeth" part would just be part of the routine.

I was at the home of a large family the other night. The whole family was watching TV and, one by one, the little children would lay down on the floor while their mom brushed their teeth (using children's tooth paste). She just sat down with her legs straddled and they would just lay there in turn while she had a great view of their mouth (dentist style) and brushed. Wow. So great. The kids seemed fine with the whole process--just watching TV!

Usually these little rebellions are short-lived if you gently push through them and avoid power struggles. I try to help my children feel in control of the situation. "You decide how much tooth paste. You tell me when we can start. You put up your finger if it hurts." Maybe it's something real, like a little sore gum or a canker sore.

Hopefully one of these suggestions will help, and I look forward to the other ideas our readers will share.

Much love,


  1. My kids have all gone through a phase like that, and I just plowed through and brushed those teeth anyway, even through screaming (and if they're crying, their mouth is open). I know, sounds mean, but it only lasted a few months, at most, and now none of them do that anymore. (the youngest is two)

  2. My friend said that tooth-brushing became a breeze with her two year-old after they watched the movie "Aladdin." When the Cave of Wonders opened up its big mouth, she became so enthralled with it, that every time her mom says, "Let's do the CAVE OF WONDERS," she opens up her mouth and smiles the entire time her teeth are getting brushed! Maybe this will help!

  3. The only thing that has worked in our family over the years with young ones is a game I came up with that they all love. You basically try to remember all the things they ate that day and then get them to open their mouth by saying "I see pizza on your teeth" or "I see juice on your teeth! Let's get it off." Then you can stretch it as long as you want and they start trying to remember all the things they ate that day as well. They really get into it. Then, the fun part is saying something random like "Let's get those worms off your teeth!" and they say "I didn't eat worms today!" and on and on. Saying things like worms, or bugs, or puppy tails, or other things keeps them opening their mouth over and over because they don't know when it is going to come and it's a good laugh. They don't want the game to end which provides for a fairly adequate tooth brushing session. And, they love trying to think of all the things they really did eat.

    It sounds silly.....I know. But it has worked time and time again with all our children.

  4. I work in a dentist office...we tell the kids there's sugar bugs on their teeth and we have to get them off or they will eat their teeth. It works for a lot of kids.

  5. I know a lot of parents won't agree with this, but I felt this was something that was their decision. I didn't fight them because it would only make them hate it that much more.

    So we would have a lot of talks about how Heavenly Father wants us to be healthy and we would talk about what the sugar does to your teeth if you don't brush it off every day. Once I felt they understood what we were teaching them, we went to the dentist. They each had a cavity (not the end of the world when it's a baby tooth), and that's when it really sank in. THEY decided to start brushing and have been totally fine with it every since because we never forced it on them.

    Sharon, you must work at my kids' dentist office. That's what they call it there, too, and it works wonders.

  6. I got toothbrushes from Target called "Firefly" that actually light up with a blinking light when you push the bottom. They blink for a minute (the time you are supposed to brush for). For my kids (3 and 1) they get to brush by themselves while the light is blinking... when it goes off it is mom's turn to brush. My 3 year old actually comes to me now saying "it's your turn!" and he used to really fight it! We also discuss chasing/cleaning sugar bugs out of his mouth - I even pretend to see some and talk about how they are trying to hide but I find them... he thinks that is great fun.

  7. My husband and I both brush with electric toothbrushes. I have found that I can get into my 2 yr olds mouth and give him a really good clean with an electric toothbrush much easier than with a regular toothbrush. The cleaning action is all done by the brush, not so much the hand movement. This makes me feel better that I can't always get him to let me brush for a whole minute as I would like to. And he enjoys the electric toothbrush because he can turn it on himself. Good luck!

  8. I haven't read the answer yet, because I don't have time right now. But I JUST JUST JUST asked my pediatrician about this. My daughter is 19 months and it's the same situation. He said right now it's not about cleaning their teeth, it's about getting them in the habit of using the toothbrush. He said if the only thing I accomplish right now is establishing that she puts the toothbrush in her mouth before bed, I'm doing fine.

    He said absolutely don't force her because that will just make her hate brushing her teeth.

    If she wants to play and chew on her tooth brush, let her. Later you can worry about the hygiene part.

    He also suggested giving her the toothbrush while I'm brushing my teeth, and maybe she'll want to do what mommy's doing.


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