Teeth Brushing

Categories:: Behavior and Discipline Kid Related Health

Ideas to get your little ones to polish their pearly whites! Also included is advice about how not to swallow toothpaste.


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"I have a 14-month-old who will not allow me to brush her teeth. (She has her eight front teeth and is getting her first four molars in all at once right now.)  I've tried the toddler-sized toothbrush and the nubby finger-cover thing, both with and without the sweet, fruity toddler toothpaste,' but always with the same result:  pursed lips, shaking of her  head, and grabbing at the toothbrush to throw it away from her. And although she puts everything else in the house into her mouth, she has no interest in chewing on the toothbrush.  Anyone have any tips on how to get a toddler to let you brush his or her teeth?"



Here is a compilation of all the tooth-brushing advice I received to my query oh-so-many weeks ago.  (By the way, what ended up working was letting her take the toothbrush--after I've managed a few swipes--and play with it while I change her.  She has started to mimic brushing her teeth while she plays.  Her teeth still aren't very clean, but at least we're getting somewhere.)  Thanks to everyone who offered advice.



 The Elmo tooth brushing song (on YouTube) is the best! My child hated brushing his teeth and will now willingly do it if the music video is playing.

Sesame Street: Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me: Brushy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxMrtK-kYnE
Elmo is joined by families and some of his celebrity friends including Bruno Mars, David Hyde Pierce, Nicole Kidman, Amy Ryan, Wendy Williams, Jay Sean, etc




"I've just gone through this with my 12-month-old daughter.  Our pediatrician recommended using a damp cloth until she was about 18 months old, but she would have none of it.  Now I use the finger brush or just my finger--without toothpaste.  Early success involved making it into a game.  With my daughter sitting on my lap in a rocking chair, I would dip my finger into my glass of water and rub my teeth with it in a slightly exaggerated and very playful fashion and say ‘yummmmm!’  Then I would dip a different finger in the glass and say, ‘Okay, ready?  Now it's your turn,' and my daughter started enthusiastically opening her mouth and practically pouncing on my finger.  Then I introduced the little finger brush.  Now we make a little ritual of going into the bathroom before getting into pj's to stand on a stool at the sink and wash our hands and face and then do our teeth.  She's very into it all now. Good luck!"


"We always got two toothbrushes:  one for my son to play with and one for me to brush with.  He also liked playing with the electric toothbrush.  For a while when he was giving us a hard time, we bought one for him and let him choose whether he wanted to use that or the regular one.  Now he is almost 2 ½, and we still use two brushes, and we do  ’eees‘ and ’aaahhs‘ to get at his front and back teeth.  Most of the time he cooperates.  Also, many kids really like looking in the mirror when they brush.  If reaching the mirror in the bathroom is too hard for your child, try sitting him or her on your lap with a handheld mirror."


“My husband and I turned toothbrushing into something that our daughter wanted to do by doing it in front of her morning and night for months and months.  Then she wanted to brush with us so we'd hand her the brush and let her chew on it.   Eventually she started to allow us to brush (reluctantly), and we would do it before something that she loves (in her case, bathtime).  Quite frankly, I find that I get the best brushing done when she gives me a good cry with a wide open mouth." 


“Since your daughter has four molars coming in, it might be unlikely that she'll let anyone approach her mouth with a toothbrush right now.  Try backing off the issue and waiting until she has no oral pain to renew your toothbrushing efforts.  For now, offer sips of water after eating and drinking milk to clean food off her teeth because mouth bacteria can make teething pain worse."


"Keep a mom/dad toothbrush next to hers, and brush your teeth at the same time as a regular part of your routine.  Kids' desire to mimic their parents is strong!" 


"Our son was (and is) very interested in sounds, so we pointed out what a fun sound the toothbrush makes against his teeth (when used properly!).  He laughed at that, so now we often say, ’Let's make that toothbrushing sound!" and it works!"


"Try having a few fun, colorful toothbrushes from which your daughter may choose every night."


"Someone on this list once suggested this, and I have found it to be very helpful with my 23-month-old:  We say to him, "Let's get all the crackers, cereal, noodles--whatever he had for dinner--off."  That inspires him to tell us about all the food he ate all day and to try to brush it off.  Then he lets me check and get in there with the toothbrush for 30 seconds, max.  Also, when he was refusing, we would still go through the motions--going into the bathroom,  putting on the toothpaste, etc.--and if he opened his mouth even for a microsecond, we would heap on the praise.  We wouldn't pay any attention to the refusing, however, and just went on with our routine.  He still has nowhere near perfect dental hygiene, but it's MUCH better than three months ago!"


"More than a year ago, one parent said that she would tell her child that she had to use the toothbrush to get all the ’dinosaurs‘ or ’tigers‘ or other such intruders out of her child's mouth.  (She said it in a far more entertaining way than that, but you get the idea.)  Well, by sheer coincidence, the same night I read the post, I had my first experience with my then 18-month-old son refusing to brush.  This little game worked like a dream!!!  My son, who is now three, still sometimes says with a smile--when I am trying to hurry him off to bed--that he has to brush for a long time to get all the dinosaurs out of his teeth."


"The best tip I got on toothbrushing from this list last year was to pretend that there are creatures in your kid’s mouth and that you need to brush them out.  It works like a charm.  My 2 1/2 year old now likes brushing out Dora, Boots, Swiper, etc., and for a while, my older daughter liked to hear about all of the Peter Pan characters in her mouth and reminded me of the ones I missed."


"We do a similar thing with our 2 ½- year-old, but we say it is Elmo we need to get out.  It works great.  Now our daughter has added other characters that need help escaping from her teeth.  We also do the ‘pick a toothbrush’ trick and are happy to say she likes her plain 'brown' toothbrush over the Dora one!"


"My son is a bit older (3 ½) but I just bought a shiny red `Hot Wheels' toothbrush with a car on the end.  Now he wants to brush all day!"


"My son's dental hygiene benefited greatly from the toothbrushing tips on PSP six months ago.  At the moment, his toothbrush is a snow blower, and we have to get grandma, grandpa, and a wide assortment of other people and animals out from the snow (in his mouth).  Reworking the story and being the hero of it is apparently more rewarding than toothbrushing is bad.  The toothbrush used to be a leaf blower and had to be started (making motor noises) outside of his mouth.  Good luck to all, and many thanks to whomever originally suggested brushing people off of teeth.   I also used to trade with my son, so he got to brush my teeth a little, and I got to brush his.   I am glad we are done with that!"


"The big break-through was when we'd just brush at the same time as her, going down at her level and staring at her in the eyes while brushing, and showing her in a very TMI-way all the ins-and-outs of our mouth/ teeth as we are doing it. She gets curious and starts mimicking. I think also changing to a toothpaste she liked helped, too. We use the babyganics strawberry toothpaste. We also made a big deal of her brushing on the left side, a big deal of brushing on the right side, etc. And sang songs to keep her entertained so she would forget she's brushing, and do it longer. I was reading the Child Whisperer book where they classify children into 4 types, so if yours is also Type 1 it will really help to make a game out of it. It's a bit tiring to keep changing the games every time they get bored of it, though :)  I think they also have children's books on tooth brushing. I haven't tried yet but is on my to-do to go borrow them from the library and try that way, too."


"Our doctor told us to clean teeth with a wet cloth until 2 years old, and start brushing teeth at 2. Now they can use brush just for fun."


"A new toothbrush! I am not sure if that is your answer, but it worked for us. Aiden was I think just bored so we got him a new one and now he is interested (a little more). And we brush together which seems to get him a little more interested. It works for us now but who knows next week! They are so freakingly picky these days I find!"


"3 toothbrushes. He holds one in each hand and then I can actually brush his teeth with the third. I say Ahhhh! a lot with my mouth open wide and he mimics, and I let him try to brush my teeth too. He loves it. Also, he gets to stand on a stepstool at the bathroom sink, which is fairly new and fun for him, and he likes the water running out of the faucet."


"When I remember to do it, we give him the toothbrush while reading books after bath and he seems to enjoy doing it himself. At some point I take over for a bit to try to be sure we're get the teeth clean. And then, of course, he throws the toothbrush on the floor..."


"I sing a song every time right before so she knows that is what we are about to do.  Then I swish my toothbrush in my mouth while we brush her teeth, which she seems amused by."


This is freakingly awesome! I was literally laughing reading your reply! I am going to get more toothbrushes on hand - love the hand-full-toothbrush approach here! It's hilarious!"


More advice from an August 2020 thread...


Original question: 

"Hope everyone is well and healthy. Is anyone else struggling with brushing teeth for their toddlers? My daughter is 13+ months and has 5 teeth. It's a daily wrestling match to brush her teeth. My husband and I have tried singing, brushing together, playing music to make it work, but she just wants to chew the bristles or use the opposite side as a chew toy. Any other ideas as to what I can do to encourage brushing? Also how do you teach to rinse mouth? My daughter keeps drinking all the water!"



"We are still using a silicone finger brush for our 14 month old. He’s mostly interested in just chewing on it, especially since he’s teething, but I don’t think that’s really a problem. He has six and a half teeth now, all in the front. Also, we use just a tiny bit of fluoride-free training toothpaste, so they don’t need to rinse or spit. We have an almost three and a half year old as well and we are still using fluoride free swallowable toothpaste with him too and have yet to try getting him to rinse and spit.  He does use a regular toddler toothbrush now and even with him we have to brush for him or he just chews the bristles. I think just by getting your daughter used to the routine and to having the brush in her mouth you’re doing enough at the moment."

"You are going to laugh and probably think that we are ridiculous but we've had success with the two of us tag-teaming our 15-month-old. She's got 8 teeth and 2 upper molars coming in so it's a challenge to feel like we are brushing effectively. My husband will pick her up and flip her so that he is holding her (securely) upside down, this makes her laugh in excitement and open her mouth. That's when I jump in and do my work of brushing her teeth as quickly as I can. Once she starts fussing, we flip her right-side-up and I hand her the toothbrush. She then plays around with it a little and she likes mimicking and will try and brush her own teeth."

"I've found books that include toothbrushing are helpful to get my 13 month old excited. Both Sandra Boynton's 'The Going to Bed Book' and 'Dino-Snores' have tooth brushing as part of their bedtime routine so reciting those bits seem to help. I'm sure there are plenty of others!"


And even more from a November 2020 thread...


Original question:

"Hi Parents! Anyone have any good advice for getting your toddler to brush their teeth? What strategies have you found that work?"



"Brushing teeth has been a struggle for us too. Thankfully, we are in a good groove right now. We incorporate brushing teeth into bath time (nightly) My LO is 16 months. When he’s in bath, whoever is giving bath wets toothbrush with warm water to soften bristles We do a few swipes of top and bottom teeth and come back to make a few more attempts while he’s playing. He loves his tongue being brushed. So if we do that a few times and then sneak in teeth brushing too. We also use a clean wet wash cloth to wipe gums— a few swipes in there to make an attempt at getting bacteria off. He does bite down when I use wash cloth but I’m skilled enough now I don’t get bit. I also think the CPI ter pressure of biting on the wash cloth feels good so it makes it easier to do. I personally think the wet wash cloth ( we use small thin ones from when we was newborn) is helping We also let him play with toothbrush at little and he puts in his mouth and tries to brush by himself. I figure that’s good practice to get used to brushing. I would say 95% we get teeth done without the toothbrush getting in bath water.

This is what I got from Target and been happy with them."


"So I started teaching my LO how to brush his teeth since he was 13 months. Below are a few tricks and products you could use to help him learn.

1. Make it playful. Sing a song, like "this is how you brush your teeth, brush your teeth!"

2. Let him see you how you or your husband brush. Babies love to immitate and they catch it quickly.

3. Buy tooth brushes for a toddler to get a good grip and since he is teething he will just love to chew on it. Below are few I use.

- Baby Banana - Yellow Banana Toothbrush, Training Teether Tooth Brush for Infant, Baby, and Toddler

- Trueocity Baby Toddler Toothbrush 4 Pack, Soft Bristles, Teething Finger Handle Toothbrushes for 0-2 Years - Training First Set (Blue, Green, Orange) - BPA Free

4. Buy 'hello' toothpaste from Amazon. It comes in several flavours and buy the flavour your LO loves. He will love to have that flavour and will start to brush on his own.

5. Do not limit brushing time only to bathroom. At first let him enjoy and learn. He may walk around the house with it. But limit time with the second product, it could damage the gums. The first one is absolutely safe.

6. This step follows once he is getting used to the brushing. Set up a mirror in your bathroom catering to his height. He will love looking at himself and use that toothbrush( immitating mommy and daddy brushing their teeth).

7. Give him the toothbrush while he is in the bath. He will brush his teeth and end up playing with the toothbrush with his other bath toys."




"My daughter is almost four and still swallows her toothbrushing water.the dentist said at our last visit a few months ago that she should be able to do the spitting right, but it still hasn't clicked. I wouldn't worry and just wait for it happen, like any other developmental 'milestone' (not sure if that is one!). We just make her spit at the end of brushing, she gathers up saliva and spits into the sink,and hopefully, some day soon she'll get exactly what this is about."


"On the mechanics of teaching a kid not to swallow toothpaste and everything -- we practiced with my son with just water. We had him take a sip of  water, hold it in his mouth, and spit it back out. We had to demonstrate, of course. It took a few tries but he got the idea. Going through the same thing now with my 2 year old twins -- they definitely do not yet understand the idea of having liquid in their mouths and not swallowing it. But they'll get it eventually and your child will too."


"There is toddler toothpaste that is ok to swallow. We use Babyganics which is without fluoride, dyes, etc and just use a little. Have been to the dentist and gotten a good review so it seems to be working!"


"My son likes his toothpaste too and I realize that this phase was (and still is) taking longer than I hoped for. It's one of those battles not worth me getting stressed about, so instead I opted to stay with using the baby/child Weleda Tooth Gel. It's natural so I don't have to worry about him swallowing unnecessary amounts of concentrated Fluoride (Since it's already in our water) or peppermint. He's 4 now and saw the dentist for the first time when he was 3 1/2. His teeth were perfect. His dentist is a fluoride toothpaste pusher so i decided to ask my dentist who i have been seeing for over a dozen years. He said "as long as he is drinking water that isn't bottled since fluoride is in our water, let him use (and swallow) his flouride free toothpaste. He'll get over the phase eventually" So i guess my two cents is...don't stress about it and let the toothpaste drinking habit phase out naturally. I've never heard of anyone dying from consuming too much toothpaste... so unless i find out otherwise, he wins the toothpaste drinking battle;)"


"Just use a tiny (pea-sized) amount at first, and reconcile yourself to the fact the she will swallow most of it."


"We've been using a natural toothpaste with my son for a while now. Basically, we brush his teeth with toothpaste, then rinse the toothbrush, then brush his teeth again just with water to "rinse" his mouth. He definitely doesn't get swishing and spitting yet. I figure we're rinsing most of the toothpaste away, but he likes the taste of it and it can't hurt him if he swallows a little bit. Don't know if that's helpful, but I just wanted to say you're not alone. Oh, and we haven't taken him to the dentist yet either. I can't imagine him sitting still for that long!"


"Just put a tiny bit of toothpaste on the toothbrush until she figures it out (so it's ok for her to swallow it). It won't be long!"


"I took my son to the dentist in May just before he turned 3. The dentist told me that kids don't really learn how to effectively brush until they're about 6 so for now, it's best to let mama do it for him. We use a non-fluoride paste and very occasionally use one with fluoride. He has no idea how to spit - the concept seems beyond him. But the cleaning is super important. While it's key he eventually do it for himself, it's more important that it happens at all. Good luck!"


"We just graduated our 2 year old from training toothpaste to real toothpaste (tom's, for children). Haven't gone to the dentist yet so don't know if we should've kept on with the training toothpaste. Anyway, after a few tries in the sink which didn't really work, I gave her a little purple plastic bowl that I have in my hand, nearby and when I see the drool and foam accumulating from the toothpaste, I put the bowl right on her chin and tell her to spit. She obliges. The bowl was key for us. So maybe find a fun little bowl for her to use. Or put something in the bowl and ask her to aim for it. Make it like a game! Good luck."


"[this is one that really made me laugh!]
I told my son it was a spitting contest and said swallowing was an automatic disqualification. He was into it, and figured it out pretty fast. It was in a very lighthearted way, to be clear. Like 'oh no, disqualified! Try again! Hey, you got it! American judge scores a 10, an 8 from the Soviets...' Now, once he mastered spitting, keeping it confined to the sink...sigh...


"My 3 year old always swallowed, until we switched to adult minty toothpaste. Now he spits because he doesn't like the taste. If you are using a kid flavor you could try that!"


"Not ideal, but we used those kids toothpastes without fluoride that are okay to swallow. We started spitting using that - and at least had him try. Making a game out of it - spit the sugar bugs out!"


"No worries. Its an acquired skill; they'll eventually get it over time. Keep demonstrating how you do it. And in the meantime, use a non-fluoride toothpaste that's safe to swallow."


"We practiced spitting just the water before giving her toothpaste. Big exaggerated PA-TUEY! I'm certain my daughter still swallows a good amount of the toothpaste anyway, but with constant reminding it seems less and less :-)"


"I was afraid my 2 year old daughter would do that too but I just did it myself to show her how to spit and she just did it. She thinks it's fun. I also say 'spit' and make a sound like 'patooey' to make sure she knows to do it when I ask her to. Videos help too, like Elmo's teeth brushing song. Doing it alongside her definitely helps because she can mimic you."


"If she is not able to spit it out. (this is common). Use toothpaste that does not have flouride. That's what our dentist told us.
By the way it took me for ever to get my son to the dentist. He is 5 years old now and fine. I brushed his teeth."


"We just aped it with our son (almost 4) until he caught on. We brushed teeth together, and swished together too. I don't think the dentist will really give you a leg up here. Maybe just try practicing with a cup of water in the bathtub so she gets some mess free practice time? And model it for her. Good luck!"


"My daughter has been to her dentist since she was 2 but didn't start to spit until she was 4yo. I just make sure I buy her safe to swallow toothpaste like toms or honest co. The most important thing is she brush & floss her teeth."


"Maybe the dentist or another PSP will have better tips, but I found spitting into the sink was just a skill both my girls had to figure out on their own. (Of course they would happily spit out food they didn't like! But something about doing it on command was hard.) We would demonstrate, etc, and for a while they would try but sort of blow raspberries and eventually it just clicked. I'd say they mastered it right around three so it should be coming!
The newish rules are that fluoride toothpaste is ok for younger kids (maybe even at 2?) but you are supposed to use just the teeniest amount (the dentist can show you). It's inevitable they may swallow a little as they are learning but I think the idea is that the benefits trump any small amount they might ingest. My kids are pretty sensitive to toothpaste flavors- my older one especially deems many too "spicy," even if it says that it is fruit or bubblegum flavored. We found a strawberry one I think made by Colgate that they like right now."


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