Tips for Brushing Toddler Teeth

We brush Little Miss’ teeth after every meal, but this is one routine which is never routine. She’s 22 months old now; we started when her first teeth arrived around 12 months. When she was young we cradled her, but these days we stand her up on the bathroom counter and see which of the following methods is going to work:

1) Friendly compliance. Ask her to open her mouth and she does… for the entire brushing session. Jackpot!

2) Vain consent. We turn her to face the counter-length mirror and ask, "Do you want to watch? Open your mouth." She opens her mouth with a smile and actually enjoys the brushing experience. This is slightly awkward for me because, although I brush my teeth in front of a mirror, it’s reverse from how I normally brush her teeth.

3) Play time. Give her the toothbrush and let her move it around in her mouth for a few minutes. This is all about giving in to a toddler’s desire to do things for herself. Afterward she is more willing to let me brush her teeth.

4) Fair warning. Tell her, "Papa is going to brush your teeth now. Please open your mouth. I’m going to count to three. Open your mouth by the time I reach three or Papa is going to open your mouth for you." That’s the condensed version. Reality is a bit more complicated and sugar coated. We use the 1-2-3 rule for many things and she often consents at the end of the countdown.

5) Kicking and screaming. I lay Miss horizontally on the bathroom counter with her head cradled by a (half-normal-height) tissue box. I dent and crinkle the lengthwise box edges so her neck isn’t resting on a 90 degree edge. Her crying makes the whole process move quickly because she opens her mouth wide to cry and pulls back her lips, exposing her front teeth for easy brushing. On occasion she clenches her jaw instead, but a pinky finger easily props open her mouth.

Disclaimer: It is of course imperative I watch and hold Little Miss at all times, lest she topple onto the bathroom floor. Even a kid who seems coordinated and responsible can take a tumble.

Other details: We use Tom’s of Maine Liquid Toothpaste for Children, which is a gel devoid of fluoride and dyes. (Another version of the children’s toothpaste has fluoride, so check the box.) For fluoride, we opted for a mouth rinse our pediatrician recommended which is considered "safe" for kids to swallow, though we do everything to encourage Miss to spit.

We rinse using small crinkle cups purchased at a restaurant supply store, the type of cup you get with free food samples at Costco. A Dixie cup would do, but I wanted a smaller cup she can more easily handle. Little Miss alternates between wanting to spit into the sink and wanting to guzzle the water. We always demonstrate spitting though.

Also see: more tips via BabyCenter.


4 Responses to “Tips for Brushing Toddler Teeth”

  1. Carol says:

    Yes – we alternate between Friendly Compliance and Kicking and Screaming here. Except that we aren’t quite so nice with the gentle laying on a tissue box. We stand her on a stool and when she opens her mouth to scream, we dive in with the toothbrush, wedging her head between our hand and our belly. To be honest, I’m not sure either method is effective. But we certainly get an A for effort.

    April 11th, 2006 at 7:35 pm

  2. honey says:

    I guess this is one area where we’ve lucked out… when he graduated out of the finger toothbrush stage, we let him pick the replacement. He picked a Crest toothbrush with Big Bird on it, and we bought two. We put a dab of Oral-B Stages toothpaste on each brush and give one to him; he chomps on his a bit, then lets us brush a bit. It gets the job done.

    We haven’t used a rinse, tho. I’d like to but I don’t think he’d spit it out.

    April 20th, 2006 at 8:36 pm

  3. Matt says:

    Very good tips – love your approach. Please consider adding some to and linking back here :)

    Best wishes for the growth of the Blog!
    Matt Minti Co-founder

    April 21st, 2006 at 6:03 am

  4. Dentistry says:

    Brushing our toddler’s teeth is such a chore. It wears us out!

    The only thing we find that works is using flavored toothpaste. Otherwise, she starts kicking and screaming. Plus, lots of giggling FROM US seems to help too. Then she thinks it’s a game.

    October 9th, 2008 at 6:07 pm

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