Why do some seemingly simple things have to be so hard with kids 😩 You would think toddler teeth brushing is a simple quick thing to get done, but somehow it can turn into a straight up WWE smack down leaving everyone stressed and crying. That was us for 2 years and it was f’ing terrible! I felt like I tried every tip I saw but nothing seemed to work more than a few days and then it would go back to the same traumatizing experience.
I used to blame it on the fact that it took so long for us to start regular toothbrushing. I have late teethers and as nice as it was in the breastfeeding department it was a challenge for eating and developing toothbrushing habits by having kids that don’t get teeth until they’re one. But I’ve later come to realize every kid is just so different. They all have their challenges, and they all respond to things differently.
This isn’t a one size fits all approach, but it is a set of strategies that I’ve carried over from other parenting hacks and it has been a complete game changer for our very challenging 2.5 year old. I hope beyond all hope that these strategies will work for you and that you can adapt them to suit your specific toothbrush hating child, but at the very least know that these strategies can carry over to other areas of parenting and should help in one way or another.
I’ve broken down our teeth brushing routine into a few main strategies:
- Using video aids
- Sticker chart with rewards
- Make things a big fun event
- Other helpful tips
5 Toddler Teeth Brushing Tips to Put an End to the Meltdowns
Prepping your Toddler for Teeth Brushing
This is a strategy that has helped us in so many ways with our challenging toddler. If he has anything outside of his normal routine or any changes we practice prepping. Some examples of when you can use this are:
- Doctors appointments
- Teeth Brushing
- Eating habits
- Sleep expectations
The idea is that you continually communicate the behaviour you want them to do or let them know what is happening soon. For toddler teeth brushing you can make their sticker chart together (more on that later) and talk about what it is and how it works. Then, leading up to when you brush their teeth you talk about it.
For example, “At bathtime we’re going to brush your teeth. I want you to open wide and let mommy brush your teeth while you watch a video. If you do a really good job you’ll get a sticker and when you reach the gold star you’ll get a toy.”
Don’t feel like your toddler needs to have great communication for this to work. My eldest is speech delayed and this still works great on him. I’ve also seen how showing what’s going to happen at a doctor’s appointment on a teddy bear has helped a 10 month old have a much better experience. They absorb a lot!
Use Video Aids
Video aids really help, and not all are created equally. We used to use Raffi’s toothbrush song. It was fun for a while but things quickly reverted back to the flip outs. The video that’s helped us is Brush Your Teeth | Kids Songs | Super Simple Songs. This video is animated and shows more of what tooth brushing is all about. It really interests my son and he immediately learned how to open wide when previously he would mainly clench his teeth. You also may want to keep switching it up to keep things interesting.
Toddler Teeth Brushing Sticker Chart and Rewards
Toddlers do great with reward systems. Your reward can simply be the stickers or anything else you like. We chose to do a smaller toy (batman action figure we’ve already been waiting to give to him), followed by a bigger toy (the car that goes with it). It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. If you want to go big, go for it, but this can be done for as little as the cost of stickers, paper, and markers that you likely already have.
Have fun creating the teeth brushing sticker chart with your toddler by making it colourful and personalized. You could do this on the computer and show it to them after if you like, but as mentioned before, it’s a great activity to do with your toddler as part of your prepping strategy. We just used a piece of letter paper and wrote “Logan Rocks at Brushing Teeth” on it in coloured letters. After you create a fun title draw a bunch of circles on it for the stickers to go with a big star at the end. We chose four rows on ten, but in hindsight I wish I did three or five. Ten days for great night brushing, then ten days of introducing day brushing along with night (2 rows), then leave it at that or repeat the last day/night rows. Yours doesn’t have to be exactly the same. Do what works for you.
The important part is to display it in the bathroom where your toddler can see and reach it, and communicate what it’s all about. If tooth brushing starts to go sideways and you don’t think they should earn a sticker, make sure you communicate that partway through. For example, “I’m having trouble brushing your teeth. I need you to be calm and open wide so I can brush your teeth. If you don’t, you won’t get a sticker tonight. Let’s brush our teeth nicely so you can get your sticker.”
Slowly phase out the toddler teeth brushing sticker chart as you see fit. You can keep it going with just stickers until they lose interest, or tell them that they’re so good at it they don’t need it anymore.
Make It a Big Fun Event
The key to kids enjoying things and being willing participants is to make it fun. Include singing and dancing and lots of high fives and clapping as they complete a successful toothbrush session.
Other Helpful Toddler Teeth Brushing Tips
Let Them Practice First
Let them practice first, then tell them it’s your turn. This allows them to have some independence and learn how to do it themselves.
Let Them See You Brushing Your Teeth
Whether you let them watch you when you do it during your regular times, or brush your teeth during their turn, it’s important for them to see that it’s normal for everyone to brush their teeth. Talk about it with them before and after. Things like, “It’s morning time so mommy needs to brush her teeth before we start our day, then it’s your turn.”, or “See how mommy just spit in the sink. Once we’re done brushing our teeth we spit it all out. Now you try.”
Try Different Toddler Toothbrushes
Not all toddler toothbrushes are created equal. Some are too big for their tiny mouths, some kids really respond to character toothbrushes, or ours really likes his electric toothbrush so it’s like Mom and Dad’s. Play around with it until you find what works. You could also bring them on a toothbrush shopping trip as part of your prepping strategy.
Have a Second Toothbrush
Whenever things start to get hairy offer the second toothbrush and ask if they want to brush your teeth at the same time. It can be your own toothbrush or a back up toddler toothbrush. Sometimes he brushes my teeth, and other times he tries to do his at the same time, whatever works, it’s just nice to have another tool in the toolbox to try and keep things going smooth.
- Prep your toddler so they know what behaviour you want them to have.
- Use a fun video to get them more into teeth brushing.
- Use a sticker chart and rewards system.
- Make tooth brushing lots of fun.
- Give them a chance to brush their teeth themselves.
- Let them see you brush your teeth.
- Try different toddler toothbrushes.
- Have a second backup toothbrush.
That’s it for now. I know it’s a whole lot of information, but kids can be complicated little creatures sometimes and it’s nice to have lot’s of options. These are all toddler teeth brushing techniques we’ve learned over the years that really help us and I hope they help you too. Have any other ideas? Please leave them in the comments below so we can all check them out, and follow along on social media, @JannineMacKinnon, for more helpful tips and tricks.