A fellow parent recently asked me for advice on how to get their toddler interested in brushing their teeth. As a father of two little ones, I have had my share of toothbrush battles. But, it doesn’t have to be bad as it may seem. Here was my response:

  1. Brush your own teeth in front of your toddler every night. Yes, this means you have to actually brush your teeth…every night. Let your child hold your toothbrush for inspection and approval. Don’t allow child to put it in their mouth, “sharing is caring” does not apply here. Get them their own children’s toothbrush and let them play with it while you brush your own teeth. Remember, make it fun! Be cheery and excited.
  2. Don’t force a toothbrush on your toddler…ever. I get it, you’re tired, exhausted, and just want to power through it, but how would you like someone jamming a plastic stick into your gums? It’s not productive. If you have already done this in the past, you will now be working uphill. The name of the game is long term success…so losing the toothbrush battle one night is okay as long as you win the long-term war. (FYI: Tip #1 still applies in these cases, nice try.) Don’t wait for it to get too late at night to brush teeth – they’re tired, cranky, and just want to pass out, try to brush earlier after the last meal.
  3. You have to be excited about brushing your own teeth, and share your excitement with them. Make it a game. With my toddler, I called it “brushing our molars”, and I pointed out that the molars are in the back. I showed my son my teeth, with him staring into my mouth from two inches away, I showed him I am “brushing my molars”…so it was like an interesting alien activity.
  4. This should be a fun activity, so allow the toddler to hold your brush and allow them to brush your teeth. Then let them hold their own brush and brush their own teeth. Make your move by saying, “my turn,” and you brush their teeth for as long as they last. Start with the hard to reach areas first.
  5. Armed with brush in hand…show that you are going to do “EEEs” and “AAHHHs”. EEEs are like making a big silly smile and brushing all the front teeth. “AAHHHs” are opening big like an alligator and brushing the molars, top and bottom. It’s okay if you miss surfaces…just take what you can get while they are compliant. If the child becomes raging mad, abort and hand child to spouse.
  6. Consistency is key. Period. Never ask, “Do you want to brush your teeth now?” Rather, you should state with confidence, “It is now time to brush our teeth, lets get ready for bed.” With this you will demonstrate that toothbrushing is non-negotiable, and good early childhood habits will last a life-time.

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