Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brushing an Uncooperative Toddler's Teeth

A few months ago, brushing Noah's teeth wasn't a problem. I would sit on the toilet seat, lay him over my lap, and give his teeth a quick yet thorough brush. Then, he would have a turn which consisted of him putting the toothbrush in his mouth for one second, and then saying "All Done". It always went so smoothly that when he started to protest, I chalked it up to teething pain, and considered it to be a temporary problem. But, night after night it was becoming virtually impossible to get the brush into his mouth.

I have heard how important it is for the parent to brush the child's teeth, and I can see why. Noah's idea of brushing his teeth is sucking the toothpaste off the brush and then biting on the bristles. So, I searched for help on the internet and found some great tips to try:
I decided to try all of these techniques, as well as a sticker reward after successful toothbrushing. Off we went to the store. Noah needed a new toothbrush anyway. However, instead of picking out one, I had him pick out 3 soft-bristled toothbrushes. We had Little Bear toothpaste at home, and the only other fluoride-free toothpaste available was Thomas the Tank Engine, so I grabbed that one in order to give him a choice of toothpaste as well. 
That night, we excitedly opened his new toothbrush and toothpaste purchases. I showed Noah the 3 toothbrushes and asked him which one he wanted to use to brush his teeth. That first night (and every night since - I've been doing this for 3 weeks now) he had such a look of contentment. He smiled and took his time just enjoying the power of choice. Buying 2 or more toothbrushes and offering a choice is a fantastic tip for helping your child get on board with the toothbrushing regime.

Once Noah had chosen his toothbrush, I chose one of the remaining two to brush his teeth with. Of course, getting into his mouth to brush his teeth is the hardest part, but at least we had established a positive attitude about the activity at this point.

I would say (fingers crossed) that brushing teeth is now a successful activity. Out of the other tips listed above (besides multiple toothbrushes), a couple have worked particularly well with Noah. For instance, he likes when I say he has "peanut butter or toast in there". I tell him "I can see it right there!" He laughs and opens his mouth to let me get it out. Telling him to say "Grrrr" also helps. That way, he moves his lip out of the way so I can brush his front teeth.

Also crucial to our success is his immediate sticker reward. He gets to choose a sticker and then place it on his piece of paper on the fridge. He really like the choice part of this.
Other rewards can be desired activities. Noah loves puzzles, so I often entice him to let me brush his teeth by promising puzzles afterwards.

Having stated all these tips, I couldn't help but notice one other factor that helped with our dilemma: MY change in attitude! Originally, my approach to brushing his teeth was more "matter of fact"; a job that needed to get done. Let's face it, brushing our teeth is tedious and boring. None of us look forward to it. Brushing someone else's teeth - also not a very exciting activity.
However, attempting these new tips was a fresh start. Noah fed off my excitement about it. He felt more positive because I was now having fun with it too. I made sure I didn't overdo the brushing. I did what was necessary to clean his teeth, and then excitedly stated "All done!". I truly was so proud of him, and happy for him, and as we skipped down the hall to get his sticker, he felt that. So, heartfelt praise is a huge factor for being successful at brushing a toddler's teeth, as is just having a little fun with it! I guess this is true for most things a toddler needs to learn to do. We just need to remind ourselves of it every so often.


  1. Thanks for that two-toothbrush tip. Some kids have the tendency to grab stuff that make them curious. If they already have something in their hands, they won't focus on another one until they get bored. Great idea, Charla. Great idea!

  2. Thanks Jenna! I really can't claim this tip as my own. I got all these really great ideas off other mothers (on the internet)as cited above. Glad it helped you too! And thanks for the comment!