10 Fun and Effective Ways to Make Teeth Brushing a Blast for Toddlers

10 Fun and Effective Ways to Make Teeth Brushing a Blast for Toddlers

Brushing teethTeeth brushing is one of those things that doesn’t necesarily come naturally to a toddler - the brush can feel too rough on sensitive gums and the initial curiosity can easily turn to resistance and power struggles. As parents and carers we know why teeth brushing is important and we strive to do the best for our children - but how can we make it fun! The most feel-good option (bribing, coercing or threatening don’t feel good for anyone) is to use kindness, patience and creative thinking to find a solution with the child. Communicating through your child’s language, the language of play, will bring more connection, more learning and more peace. Learning under duress or from a threatening adult is so much harder because the child connects with the feeling of fear more than what is being taught. Here are our top tips for making teeth brushing a positive experience…

Getting to grips with a brush and paste

You can start early, from as young as 6 months when teeth appear. Many teethers actually include a brush to help baby get familiar with how a brush feels. When your baby becomes a toddler you could let them choose their favourite Banana Teethercolour brush (but keep things simple as too much choice can be overwhelming). This article offers a different perspective on what makes a toothbrush effective. Some children with sensory needs actually find an electric toothbrush easier to tolerate (despite the noise input). Most parents say that mint flavours are often too strong for young ones so a taste-less paste might be ideal. Allow your little one to smell, touch and taste the toothpaste before you include it with brushing. Some children will want to eat the toothpaste and others will hate it. If this is the case try different flavours from alternative sources or, if needs be, start practicing brushing before introducing the paste.
You can help your toddler understand how much paste they need by showing them a pea (yes, a garden pea!) and giving them the same size amount of paste. Having that visual aid can be really helpful in the longterm.

Mirror each other!

Young children love to copy adults - pick up your brushes together and watch yourselves in the mirror. Make it fun and smile - play around with the lather you create and the noises you make when spitting - follow the giggles if they show up! Don’t worry if your child hasn’t done a perfect job - when starting out it’s more important they feel comfortable with the brush in their mouth and don’t feel pressured or stressed (because you feel pressured and stressed!). Some children prefer to brush when laying down - if standing and looking in the mirror doesn’t work you could try this instead.

Be the food investigator!

You can either be the food investigator, or inspector (if your child loves the police force!) or whichever character will Lily the fishappeal to your child. This character has the job of looking for food in the teeth. This is where you take hold of the brush yourself and have a quick brush. Being quick is important - start with short bursts and build up so the child learns to tolerate the sensation. You can also recruit your child’s dolls, puppets or other toys to join in and finish off the brushing!

Take turns

As your child gets more familiar with brushing you can take turns to brush each others teeth. Your mouth will be bigger and therefore easier for them to see what’s going on inside the mouth! So you brush your toddler teeth and then they brush yours!
They might enjoy the feeling of power and autonomy of brushing your teeth rather than feeling the vulnerability of having their own teeth brushed.
Make it fun and playful with silly faces and amusing noises! (unless you’re absolutely knackered and opening your mouth is as much as you can do - we’ve all been there!)

Set the clock and get musical

As your child becomes more comfortable you can make the brushing last longer and set a 2 minute timer - children often like watching a sand timer or a digital clock. You could even make up a 2 minute-long song featuring your child’s name and other family members. There are also lots of tooth brushing songs including the CBeebies Hey Duggee song and there are others on YouTube such as Sesame Street. Music can often create a feel-good factor and the child is reassured that the brushing won’t go on forever. There are apps too by the main toothpaste brands such as MacLean and Aquafresh. Saying that, it's also important to remember that your eye contact, humour and attention is priceless to your child and these daily opportunities are great for building connection.

Finding the time and routine

It’s worth remembering that the British Dental Association recommend supervising brushing up until your child is age 7 and to do it twice a day for 2 minutes each time.
Brushing before getting dressed in the morning might feel less stressful than after breakfast and as you’re rushing out the door for school. You might also find that your toddler prefers to brush their teeth when they are relaxed after a bath or even in the bath! Be flexible and creative in finding a routine that suits everyone.

Read books together

Story bookFrom a really young age you can be reading story books together about teeth brushing. Stories usually help children connect to brushing as a daily activity. Pinterest also has lots of ideas for creating your own daily routine charts which can feature 'tooth brushing' as an activity. I did this myself simply by taking photos of my daughters getting dressed, brushing teeth, having breakfast etc and stuck them on the wall in the order we did them in - so simple but it worked! The key thing is staying relaxed about how it happens - sometimes the resistance is not worth fighting and you might have to wait for a relaxed moment the next day and try again. Just because something doesn't happen once doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion that your child will never do it again!
Avoid shaming your child for their resistance or telling them terrible things will happen if they don’t brush - this creates fear and tension which becomes counter-productive.

Role-play the fear away

If there is fear then role-playing brushing can be really helpful. Do this when it isn’t time for tooth brushing and without any need or expectation of the outcome. Choose a time when you are relaxed and feel connected - you could use a toothbrush or even get a toy mouth mirror and re-enact with a toy what happens at tooth brushing time. It can be empowering for the child to be in charge of this and to feel in control of the game/play.
If for example, you child says it hurts when you brush their teeth you could role-play the same scenario with the roles reversed.
So you would play the child saying ‘oh it hurts’ and the child, in pretending to be the adult, can come up with their own creative ideas for how to proceed. You may discover your child tells you a fantastic solution from their perspective. Similarly, if your child clamps their mouth shut at tooth brushing time, find a relaxed time to play that role yourself. Keep your mouth closed but communicate your reluctance out of the corner of your mouth - see how your child responds with their own ideas and strategies. Sometimes children need to download accumulated tensions and that’s a natural healthy mechanism for mental wellbeing.
Tensions might be related to teeth brushing or to other things entirely. Teeth brushing can sometimes become a vehicle for tension-release because it’s something the child can try to control in a world where they often feel powerless.
This might look like brushing refusal which leads to a power struggle and then to a tantrum that has been brewing. Or sometimes it’s possible to release this tension through laughter. If your child resists brushing you could playfully and gently try brushing their knees or their shoulder. If smiles or giggles arise follow them and let the laughter be the welcome release. You’ll probably discover that teeth brushing was never the real issue after all. Most importantly, your child lives in the environment of your feeling so they will feel your anxieties, pressure and despair and when children feel pressure they are much less inclined to trust or cooperate. If you have difficult moments with brushing be reassured that they don’t define you as a parent or your child as a person, the next day is a fresh opportunity. Good luck and happy brushing!