Our kids should learn how to brush twice a day for two minutes per session. Two minutes sounds like a relatively short amount of time—until you’re trying to wrangle a kid who would rather clamp their mouth shut for all of eternity then let that brush anywhere near them.
To help build the habit in a fun way, the American Dental Association gives us a pretty solid list of tooth-brushing songs and videos we can play or sing for our kids while they’re brushing (they brush for the duration of the whole song, and it helps them get a feel for how long it should take). But sometimes even Elmo isn’t going to cut it and you need to dig a little deeper into your parenting arsenal.
When one of the parents in our Offspring Facebook Group came asking for help getting their 1-year-old to cooperate, other group members jumped in with a variety of advice.
Let them watch you
If there’s one thing that is irresistible to a toddler it is to watch a grown-up do a grown-up thing and then mimic that thing. As nice as it would be to enjoy two minutes of private, adult tooth-brushing time, if your kid is struggling with this chore, it might help for them to watch you do it.
That’s what worked for group member Angelo, who says, “Ours got really interested in tooth-brushing when he saw us doing it. We noticed his interest and got really theatrical about it saying ‘Aaahhh’ and ‘Eeehhh’ while brushing. We got him a baby brush and have been working on helping him doing it vs. doing it for him.”
If all else fails, let them actually brush your teeth for you. They are going to do a terrible job, so you’ll still have to brush again later, but if they help you they might be more willing to let you help them.
Let them hold a “dummy” toothbrush
What’s the only thing better than one toothbrush? Why, two toothbrushes, of course! Let them hold a spare toothbrush while you’re brushing their teeth. Something about holding that extra one in their hands and playing with the bristles can be enough to distract them while you get in there and clean up.
Hear them roar
When all else fails, try animal noises, like Jessica did with her son (who she reports is now two years old and loves to brush his teeth):
“How we got him to open his mouth was by telling him to roar like a lion and when he did, we brushed quickly until he closed again. Then repeated like 10 times.”
It’s all about the paste
Have you ever bought the wrong toothpaste by mistake? It’s the same brand you usually use but a slight variation (striped toothpaste=no) and it tastes disgusting? Flavour is important here.
Let them try a fun flavour or two of children’s toothpaste—watermelon seemed to be a popular choice among the children of Offspring readers—and let that be its own incentive.
While you shop for the perfect toothpaste, keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend non-fluoride toothpaste for kids under age 2. But they updated those recommendations in 2014 to say parents should use a small smear of fluoride toothpaste (an amount about the size of a grain of rice) for kids under age 3. Position or tilt the child in a way that allows the toothpaste to dribble out into the sink, a cup or a washcloth until they’re old enough to spit it out on their own. Kids ages 3-6 should brush with a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste.
In the end, remember that a couple of failed brushing sessions here and there aren’t the end of the world (or their oral health). It’s more important to be consistent and help them build the routine of brushing every day.