As parents, we all know that making sure our kids brush their teeth is part of the job. Given that proper brushing should only take a few minutes, some people might think this is one of the easier jobs of parenting. Those people have clearly never met my daughter.
My daughter is 3, and she firmly believes that brushing your teeth should be a fully optional life activity. She is just not a fan, which is why we’ve had to get creative to make sure it gets done. My current plan is that I don’t brush her teeth before bed and then wait for her to say “You forgot to brush my teeth!” as an excuse to get out of bed and stall bedtime. It isn’t a perfect plan, but it is working at the moment.
Since I clearly don’t have it all figured out, I turned to some wise friends for their advice on how to make getting my little one’s teeth brushed less of a struggle. As always, I got some great advice.
1. Give Them Choices
“My 2-year-old is all about feeling like she is in charge, so I play along. I bought 10 different toddler toothbrushes and three kinds of toothpaste. I told her that I get to decide when she has to brush, but she gets to decide which brush and which paste. It is totally working!” — Larissa O., Tucson, Arizona
2. Make It Feel Like a Game
“We got one of the little sand timers from a board game and are using it to teach our 3-year-old twins about how long they need to brush for; it’s something our dentist suggested. They like to flip it over and watch the sand drain, and I like not having to nag them so much.” — Eliza P., Saint Paul, Minnesota
3. Refrigerate the Toothbrush
“My 10-month-old is majorly teething right now, and his mouth hurts, which means he has been fussy about having me brush. I’ve discovered that if I put his little brush in the fridge for a little while before I brush, he seems to like it better. I think the cold feels good.” — Claire R., Topeka, Kansas
4. Practice Spitting With Fruit
“You know what was a surprisingly hard thing for us? SPITTING! I tried to teach my kids to spit the toothpaste out of their mouths but all they were doing was making a spitting noise. Then I had an idea — watermelon! I bought a watermelon with seeds and had them practice spitting the seeds out by making it a game to see who could spit farther. Worked like a charm!” — Desie G., Little Canada, Minnesota
5. Take Turns
“Our toothbrushing issue was that my son would do it, but didn’t do a good job. He is almost 3 and is VERY into the ‘I do it myself!’ phase. What we do now is let him start the job and a grown-up gets to finish. Taking turns seems to help.” — Patty A., Grand Haven, Michigan
6. Give It a Soundtrack
“Music! We let my daughter pick out a song to listen to on my phone when she brushes and flosses. She knows she has to brush and floss until the song is done. Easy!” — Jennie C., Austin, Texas
7. Enlist the Tooth Fairy’s Help
“My daughter hasn’t lost any teeth yet, but is VERY aware that her brother has lost some and gotten money from the tooth fairy. Whenever she is refusing to brush, I remind her that the tooth fairy doesn’t take dirty teeth, so if she wants money someday, she needs to brush now.” — Faith W., Saint Paul, Minnesota