Brushing Kids' Teeth

Parent Q&A

  • We’re trying to teach our son (a little over 2yo) to rinse and spit after brushing. He just takes gulps of water and swallows them (and we've been trying for a couple months). Any ideas for teaching this skill? When did your kids get it?

    We've said it's like spitting out food when a bite is too big or too warm--something he can do. Amusingly, he can repeat our explanations of what to do and enjoys teaching his toys. (“The trick is, DON’T send it down to your tummy! Make it come back out in the sink!”) But words are one thing and practical knowledge another, it seems... Any suggestions?

    How about putting something in the sink for him to spit at?  A small toy or something like that ("Give Batman a shower!").  Of course, you may create a monster...

    We practiced in the bath tub (with clean water from the tap).  One kid had a lot of difficulty and what helped with him was teaching him steps and lots of bath time practice.  First, we worked on sipping water and learning to hold it in his mouth without swallowing.  We made up a lot of games and silly things, like opening our mouth and letting the water spill out.  Trying to aim (spill) the water from our mouth on a bath toy, etc.  Basically anything fun that kept him from trying to immediately swallow the water and let him practice holding it in his mouth.  Once he was able to take a sip without swallowing comfortably, we worked on how to spit it out. There was a lot of spraying.  There still is.  We just kept at it and made it a ritual (a few sips and sprays after brushing, etc.) and every now and then, he is able spit it out pretty cleanly.  Keep it up!  It may be messy for a bit, but they'll improve.  Good luck! 

    My mother in law recently came to visit and taught our 3 year old to rinse and spit. She showed him the motions herself so that he could copy them. I'm not sure if she also explained it - it would probably be worth explaining and also giving him a demonstration if you haven't tried it already.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions (in order by age)

Brushing a 9-month-old's teeth

June 2003

I need advice on getting my nine-month old daughter to let me brush her teeth (she currently has 5 teeth). As background, the only thing she will let me put in her mouth is a spoon full of food. She even refuses to let me feed her pieces of finger food - she must do it herself. I have tried one of those infant toothbrushes that just fits over your finger, as well as one of the toddler toothbrushes that kind of looks like a figure 8. I gave her the toddler toothbrush to play with, thinking that like everything else, it would end up in her mouth and she'd miraculously figure out that the toothbrush actually had a purpose. Of course, no such luck - that is the one thing that she won't put in her mouth!

So short of forcing her mouth open (which I would prefer not to do) and fighting a mad baby, I'm not sure how to get her to let me brush her teeth. Any ideas are appreciated! Leslie

My daughter is not too fond of toothbrushing either. She is a bit older--almost 3--but these tricks have worked for quite awhile. First, try having a puppet brush hold the toothbrush. I ask my daughter who she would like to have brush her teeth and she picks a puppet. It's a bit unwieldy, but it works. It also works for us if I brush while she brushes and she copies what I do in the mirror. It's not great brushing, but moving her towards independence. Hope that helps. hengel

Hi! You don't really need to start brushing teeth until about 2, so if your toddler is really fighting it, this might not be a battle you want to pick right now, as it is not a necessity physiologically, and will most likely make it a turn off to her if you are forcing her. Kids love what they think they can't have, and by watching you do it, she will want to eventually. Our 1 1/2 yr old just started pointing to us while WE were brushing our teeth, showing him and humming, and he thought it was a hoot. He wanted toothbrush, so i bought one for him, and now when he wants to brush his teeth ( I let him point that he wants it, or i gently ask him when we are brushing teeth) I give it to him. He walks around the upstairs with it, sucking out the water I put on the brush. He doesn't really 'brush' yet, but thats not realistic. As long as he is getting used to the fact we do this after each meal, and he thinks its fun, when he has the mental capacity to understand what brushing is, he'll learn the right way to do it. So put down the brush on a finger, let it rest for a while until you can put the fun back in it for her! Don't worry, she'll do it eventually. You sound like a great influence! Trust yourself ) FL

I finally had some success ''brushing'' my daughter's teeth at around 11 months when I made it part of the routine of cleaning her up after meals. I wash her face and hands with a washcloth, which she doesn't much enjoy, and then give her teeth a quick rub with the cloth while I do this. Usually I demonstrate on myself first. I don't know if this would help you, but somehow my daughter seemed to resist less when the toothbrushing was part of the mayhem of trying to clean her up after a meal. I'm not too compulsive about it and don't generally do a very thorough job-- but I figure something has got to be better than nothing! When she resists, I just skip it. Caroline

For my 8-month old, I carry her and let her watch me directly and in the mirror while I brush my teeth (I use one of the toothbrushes that they can't put in their mouths.) Then we get her toothbrush, wet it, and she watches herself in the mirror. She seems to enjoy it. Could be just that my baby is easy. I don't try very hard to accomplish anything-the dentist told me it's mostly to get them used to the idea. janet

I count to ten in a very focused way when doing anything my son doesn't like. brushing teeth,Cutting fingernails, brushing or washing hair. When I get to nine I go back down to 1 and then When I'm done I say ''Ten'' with excitement and he knows we're done. This may screw up his counting ability, but it works. He waits really nicely. Sometimes, now that he's older I sing the toothbrushing song,
''I brush, brush, brush my teeth Brush them left to right I brush them up and down To keep them clean and white''
He reacts in the same way, waiting for it to be over. I have to sing like I'm on Broadway , but whatever works, eh

Brushing a 1-year old's teeth

Sept 2009

I'm wondering how parents get their young toddlers to brush their teeth. We've been trying to brush our little boy's teeth since the first one came out at 6 months but it's not working! He enjoys the activity and wants to brush his teeth when he sees us brushing ours, but he usually just sucks on the toothbrush and there's no actual brushing involved. I've tried holding on to his lip and brushing, modeling, letting him do it...I'm just afraid that his 7 or so teeth are not getting clean and that they'll be a mess by the time he goes to his first dental appointment. Any tips? No cavities please!

We told my son when he was small that there were ''tweetle-beetles'' (don't remember where we got the term from) on his teeth, and that we had to get them off. We then brushed his teeth for him (I don't think young kids have the fine motor coordination to do a decent job themselves). We made it kind of dramatic (''Oh, look, I see one in the back! Open up so I can get it!'') and fun, and it became a part of the usual bedtime routine that he liked. Karen

You can let him play w/the toothbrush, but you're going to have to do the brushing yourself for a loooong time to come. He's going to have to get in the habit of saying aahhhh! My kids are 3 and 5, and although they initiate the brushing (wetting the brush, putting toothpaste on, doing some initial brushing) we still finish up the brushing to make sure there is actually some cleaning getting done. Every night is ''kid's turn'' then ''mama's turn'' or ''daddy's turn'' before teeth are considered brushed and we can proceed with more fun nightly rituals (storytime). anon

hey there, we are in the same boat in terms of having a 1 year old who is sucking on the toothbrush more than she is actually brushing. We too model and it works a bit but is she brushing as effectively as she should - no! But she's only 1 and it's to be expected. I wouldn't worry and instead get those tooth tissues or use a napkin and just wipe down your child's teeth. I asked both our ped and my own dentist and that's what they recommended doing and didn't seem to think it was a big deal that she wasn't brushing, in fact, it's very age appropriate. Just be consistent and keep modeling and wipe down those teeth! same boat

Our dentists showed us this for our 2 yr old (now 3) and it works great for our 1 yr old too: Have your child lay on your lap or cradled in one arm (so they look up at you). With the head tilted back, the jaw tends to open a little. For the 3 yr old, it's great - I can see the whole set of teeth and shine each one! For the little one, we just do what we can. The dentist said that at that age, it's really more about getting into good habits and it truly worked with our older daughter.

I don't think many 1-yr-olds like to have their teeth brushed! You are not alone in) dealing with this! We tried kid-friendly electric toothbrushes, letting him pick out the toothbrush, avail. Finally, I decided that it would help my son if he knew that the process had an ending, so I started singing a little ''toothbrushing song'' (stealing the tune from one of his favorite kiddie songs) every time we brush his teeth. Our rules are that Mommy or Daddy sings the song and brushes his teeth, after that, if he wants to, he can take a turn brushing. There were certainly times that it was a struggle and he wouldn't open his mouth for us. I still wedged the toothbrush in there and brushed them, even though I couldn't see his teeth (telling him the whole time, ''this would be a lot easier if Mommy could see your teeth!'') He still sucks off the toothpaste at times, but I figure that the toothpaste is the least important part of the process anyway, so oh well. the Singing Toothfairy

My 2-year-old son has the same habit of sucking on the toothbrush instead of actually brushing. To get around this, we use 2 or 3 toothbrushes at once (one or two for his hands, and one for me). That way I can get into his mouth and do some brushing motions while he has fun with the extra brushes. It helped when we started using baby toothpaste, made the process more exciting. My dentist says that as long as I get the brush in contact with the chewing surface of the teeth, it's good enough. For extra assurance, you can rub a washcloth around the gums and teeth while giving the child a bath, they usually don't mind that and it's almost as good as brushing. Another tip from my dentist is to keep brushing your child's teeth (instead of letting them do the job) until they can sign their name legibly, i.e. age 4 or 5; before that point, they don't have the dexterity to properly brush. Teeth need care

you expect a one year old to brush independently AND adequately? get real. My kids are 4 and 6 and I still floss and brush for them every night. Then they get a turn to practice. They do their own in the morning and my daughter's preschool has them brush during the day. When my kids were as young as yours, they got a choice: the easy way - they opened up and I chased critters all over their mouths with a toothbrush while giving lots of descriptive details about the critters' hair color, shiny clothes, glittery fur. Or we could do it the hard way - they were held down and screamed as I used the open mouth as my opportunity to brush as well as I could. The hard way was not often the chosen method. One year old is way too young to do this well. don't forget to floss

It will get easier shortly, as your child matures, then you'll hit the ''I do it myself'' stage, which throws in another complication. To echo some very helpful advice that I received here in the BPN - turning it into a game helped. Per the advice, I pretended to find various wild animals in his mouth, and chase them around with a toothbrush or a baby washcloth. (Gasp! I just saw a [name animal]! Let me catch it!). Sometimes the animal was a ''sugar bug'' and he instinctively understood that Those needed to be cleaned off his teeth. YouTube is another useful tool. Pre-screen and bookmark a few videos that show other toddlers brushing their teeth. It shows them how to get the toothbrush moving. There was somewhat recently, a great video of a sea lion getting its teeth brushed by zookeepers. I also found some positive dentist experience videos which were great preparation for our first dental check-up. Good luck. Taking care of those baby teeth

It is extremely difficult to brush my daughter's teeth especially because she insists on being independent. But I have found that buying two toothbrushes in the same color (one for mama and one for baby) helps. We brush our teeth together and after a couple minutes it's her turn to brush mama's teeth and my turn to brush hers. Which can be tricky but well worth it. I get to really brush her teeth well and she get's to be distracted with my teeth. M

14-month-old hates having her teeth brushed

May 2004

My 14-month-old daughter hates to have her teeth brushed and clamps down really hard so I can't do it. She won't even cry b/c that means opening her mouth. She already has 12 teeth (including 4 molars), so I think she really needs to be brushing them. I've tried having her brush my teeth while I brush hers, having her do it and then me do it and even trying to make it a game. It's hard because she doesn't understand reasoning yet like other people talked about in the archive. So, I can't talk about cavities or even bribe her. --don't want cavities

Try the Raffi song, Brush Your Teeth, and have her brush as you sing along with Raffi. My 14-month old daughter loves it. We start singing, ''When you wake up in the morning, it's quarter to 1, you want to have a little fun, you brush your teeth,ch-ch-ch- chchchcchc...'' and my little daughter grins and looks for her toothbrush. She'll even ask to brush her teeth at random times of the day by putting her finger to her mouth and going ''ch-ch- ch-ch...''. Not sure if this will work with your baby if they already hate toothbrushing but it's worth a try. G'luck. Mom of 14-month old who loves to brush

My son is also 14 months, although he only has 4 teeth so far... We just give him his tooth brush at some point each day and let him chew on it. He loves it, and hopefully is getting used to the idea of toothbrushing. I'm not sure when we'll transition to making it more a part of his bedtime routine. Maybe when he has more teeth! Jen

This may not be the most educational advice, but the way we got our kid to be really excited about brushing his teeth was by buying a funny toothbrush and a Winnie the Pooh toothpaste. Now he rushes to the bathroom to say ''hello'' to Winnie!! My dentist also gave me some disposable dental floss that has dinosaurs and other funny shapes that our kid loves. E.

This was one battle we decided was worth the fight. My (now 2 1/2) son would scream while one parent held him and the other brushed and sang to him. We couldn't do a great job at first but with the consistent message that we always brush teeth before bedtime, my son is now pretty good at letting us brush. It also worked to make up funny songs about things he loved (e.g. Tinky Winky, Curious George, etc.) It gets better!

16-month-old refuses to brush

I have a 16 month old son who refuses to let me brush his teeth or to brush them himself. Any suggestions on getting small children to brush their teeth? Thanks, Bryant

for the mom who needs ideas for how her son will let her brush his teeth: we have barney or another stuffed animal do it. just ask him which stuffed animal (with arms to hold the brush) he wants. works for us.

Our son also resisted brushing his teeth, but we just kept trying every night before bedtime, and now he asks to do it. A few things that helped:
-- Choice of toothbrushes (we found some with handles shaped like
different animals)
-- Choice of toothpaste flavors (Tom's of Maine has some great ones)
-- Getting a stool for him to stand on at the sink so he could look in the mirror & hold the brush under the tap
-- Brushing with him

An electric toothbrush worked magic for us as did bringing a favorite stuffed or plastic animal along to 'model' brushing. Using words like 'say ahh' and 'eee' helps them position open their mouth rather than clamp it shut. Jen

My husband has found a couple of things that work with our almost 16 m.o. daughter: (1) she likes to suck the water out of the toothbrush bristles, so he'll scrub a little, dip in water, scrub a little more. If that doesn't work he will (2) sit her across his lap, tickle her, scrub, tickle her, scrub. She actually asks for more! (It's amazing the weird things you do to appease a toddler!) Ilana

We created a silly ritual: zany songs that were sung only during toothbrushing time. Nursery rhymes, Sesame Street songs, whatever... the content didn't matter. It created enough of a distraction that we sidestepped the power struggle issue.

However, I'm writing this a couple of hours before my 3-year-old goes off to the dentist to have her 4th filling put in, so I'll add that even if you do have a power struggle, it's still worth getting those little teeth clean. All of my daughter's cavities are in the front, on the teeth that she had before we started regular brushing. With my younger daughter we'll do two things differently: 1) brush those suckers as soon as they appear 2) take her to the dentist around age 2 rather than following the pedi's recommendation that we wait until age 3. If I'd known how low-key and non-traumatic the first dental exam (w/ Dr. Meeta Doshi, whom I highly recommend) was going to be, I'd have done it a lot sooner. Jennifer

I had the same teeth brushing issues with my toddler. What ended up working best for us was when I asked her to say ahhhhh! when opening her mouth big so I could brush her molars, and teeeeee! for teeth so that I could brush the front of her teeth. This seemed to work a lot better than holding her on my lap while she cried (even though this allowed me to get to her molars it wasn't pleasant for either of us!). I guess making lots of sounds made it more fun for her because she was interracting with me while I made the same sounds.

I also applied the advice I read on the advice on the network of letting her brush her teeth while I hold the toothbrush. Lastly, I rewardeed her for letting me do the first brushing by putting more baby toothpaste on and letting her do it herself. Teeth brushing is a mostly positive experience now thank goodness. good luck! Angela

Some common ingredients in toothpaste can cause irritation to tender gums. Sodium laurel (and laureth) sulfate and peppermint can do this. Since there are still strawberries around, you might rub a cut strawberry on his teeth (or let him do it) to get the feel of something smaller in his mouth. Strawberries can whiten and clean, interestingly. Also, a really cool children's brush is available from the Price Pottenger Nutrition Foundation (1-800-FOODS-4-U) developed by Joseph Phillips, DDS. It one they CAN chew and thereby clean their teeth. Nori

Brushing teeth is fun! Sit on the floor with him in front of you, facing in the same direction. Then have him lie back on the floor with his head in your lap. Then he has to roar like a lion, or a crocodile, or a dinosaur, or . . . . Sometimes you have to guess who is roaring. (Roaring requires the mouth to be wide open while you brush furiously.) Sometimes you're very scared that a bear is going to roar at you and you're ALWAYS scared when it happens! Barbara

18-month-old now just refuses to open his mouth

Sept 2008

We are having a difficult time brushing our 18 month old's teeth. He never really liked to brush but now he just refuses to open his mouth. We typically try this right before bedtime. He watches me brush my teeth and then I attempt to brush his. Any advice about brushing toddler's teeth would be greatly appreciated! We used to use a finger brush, then changed to a toddler brush when he seemed to not like the finger brush anymore. I am just worried about caries/cavities and plaque. Help! Momo

For us, it's important to be consistent and upbeat about brushing. My 17-month- old son brushes his teeth morning and bedtime, and to him it's a fun game. I invite him into the bathroom in a fun way and then we stand together and play foot- stomping games while he chews away on his little toothbrush (which needs to be replaced frequently because of all the chewing!) Sometimes he walks around the house with it, humming. I always ask him if he brushed every tooth - front, side, etc - and this adds another level of challenge to the game. He doesn't like to let me brush them thoroughly for him, but I figure that letting him do it himself is better than fighting about it, or not brushing at all! tiff

We also had trouble with our 2 1/2 year old son. When I took my kids to the dentist she suggested that to brush their teeth better you shoud do it on your lap leaning back. Their head is supported by your one arm and then brush with the other. That position in combination with we play a game where I say did you have bananas today? Let me get that off your teeth, I proceed to go through a list of food they ate that day and brush it off of their teeth as we are going through the list. It sounds silly but it works great for both of my kids. good luck Christine

What we do is play a super-exciting tooth-brushing game everyday!!! (emphasis on drummed up excitement) This is in the morning, where everyone who is in the house goes into the bathroom and brushes their own teeth The adults do their own teeth well, the 16 month olds and toddlers mostly chew on their brushes and look at us to see how we're doing it.

At the end, the adult very gently does a little brushing on the kids' teeth, adn we stop when the kids want to be done. The point here is to keep it very positive for the child, not having them be traumatized or learn to hate tooth-brushing, or feel pain. Basically, we let go of the idea that their teeth are going to be perfectly clean now, with the long-term goal of establishing a good habit and positive associations with this necessary task.

At nighttime, same thing, and use a SOFT wet cloth to gently rub your child's teeth a little better. I know of someone who plays ''dentist'' at night, making sounds of the dental tools and they practice going to the dentist in their bathroom. The child asks to play dentist after brushing each night. It's all in how you sell it to your kids...

Not sure if this would help but ever since my son started understanding things, I told him the story of Karius and Bactus :). It's Norwegian or German, not sure which but basically tells the story of two boys who come into your mouth and start using their tools to dig little holes in your teeth if you don't brush. I actually don't even know the whole story and have been improvising but it as worked magic! As soon as he hears about it and opens his mouth for brushing. You can change the names too. I find the idea wonderful. Here is a link to the German cartoon - old, old, old - Enjoy! D

With both my girls, I reached the end of my rope trying to get them to cooperate, gave them what I thought was a threat/ultimatum and ended up initiating a fun game. With my first, I told her that if she cooperated I could do it gently, but if she didn't I would have to be rough. ''So do you want gentle or rough?'' I asked, I thought rhetorically. ''Rough!'' she answered. So I made a silly/mean face and made lots of pirate-type sounds (ARRRGG!) and brushed her teeth (gently) as if I were being rough. I gave her the same choice (gentle or rough) for many weeks, and she usually chose rough.

4 years later, I reached the end of my rope with my 2nd child and threatened to throw her down on the bed and sit on her to brush her teeth if she didn't cooperate. ''Okay!'' she said excitedly. So I did. After that, I gave her the choice to brush teeth in the bathroom or on the bed, and many times she ran to the bed and lay down with her arms at her side waiting for me to come sit on her and brush her teeth! (It helps that she is still using toddler toothpaste that she doesn't have to spit out.)

Good luck! whatever works to get their teeth brushed

Are you still there?

I had a tooth brushing resister. Now I have a cooperative little partner - but it was tough going.

We have lots of games you might try.

Who do we have here? I named all the teeth (I named all the people we saw that day in order or families all together in one area of the mouth or made up names) different each time - I'd greet each one as I brushed it and say they were welcome for the bath. Some of the younger teeth needed to be chased about the mouth.

A Great day for Brushing:
There was the NASCAR style pit stop/golf commentator where I did a running commentary about the style and speed of the team: a: ''clearly a team who's time has come - look at that floss angel'' b: ''yes those of you unfamiliar with competitive toothbrushing are in for a treat...'' (we'd set a timer and try to beat it - The electric toothbrush wants 2 minutes so if I turned it off for spitting/breaks/disputes whathaveyou it would help keep the overall brushing time up and the other timer would give us motivation to get back to work.

Food inventory:
I'd pretend to grab and scrape off particular bits of food and mock disgust at the build-up of stuff based on the things she ate that day. ''What is that!?!? it is reddish and pink (grunt and ''tug'')?'' ''Strahhbwy'' (mouth full of flosser) We'd get through an inventory of the day's foods. Another neat way to reflect on the day.

Take any song or tune (marches are good) and throw in flossing and brushing and teeth characters/themes.

World in the mouth:
Narrate a fantastic trip through and amongst the mouth.

Professional Tooth Care Person:
Invent an imaginary Tooth Care professional and be that character. Or some character the kid knows about. Kid knocks on the door and you introduce yourself and begin the appointment. We have a bunch of different ones and she likes to pick. They have some crazy beliefs and small differences in style, but they are uniformly interested in their profession and can go on and on about all manner of nonsense (many do do not know about the others) It gets quite complicated.

Involves lots of face making on the brusher's part at the dirty filthy teeth, gums etc! YUCK! half way through they aren't the best looking teeth but they might be redeemable with some work/ a fixer basically then they become dangerously glamorous and shiny and hard to look at (The key test of your style on this one is that the ''staring at gleaming teeth'' look should be distinguishable from the ''Staring at filthy teeth'' look. If you have trouble I suggest a adding a shudder to the latter, but I consider that over-acting and a bit of a crutch...)

Finally, do check that the taste of the tooth paste is ok with your kid. I really hate some flavors and so did my kid. ALSO those Reach brand flossers (with the snap-in hoops) are pricey but AWESOME! The long handle keeps your GIGANTIC hands out of there and the 90 degree offset hoop puts you in a very graceful position. Really. I use them too and it has turned around my tooth care story (different post I suppose - but really it makes it so easy you'll likely do two good passes rather than one OK one...) Paul

18-month-old still does not accept toothbrushing

April 2006

Oh dear. We've still not gotten our 18 month old to accept toothbrushing. She's fascinated to be held while we're brushing our teeth and to help hold on to the toothbrush, but closes her mouth and shakes her head when we try to brush hers. We'd tried the stubby finger glove toothbrushes with her around 9 months but she clamped down painfully over and over. We keep trying but are losing faith.... Does anyone have suggestions? Also, our pediatrician has suggested taking her to a dentist but I can't imagine her staying still for long. Any suggestions? She's got gorgeous teeth and so far I've been unconcerned about cavities from breastmilk pooling in the mouth as she drifts off to sleep at night. Somehow it doesn't ring true. Does anyone have personal experience to suggest whether I am right to be unconcerned or whether I am naively or dangerously underestimating this risk? toothy grin toddler's mommy

Our 25 month old is going to have IV sedation for root canals on her two back molars next week. She too had ''gorgeous'' teeth until she was about 19 months, when two brown spots suddenly appeared which rapidly turned into deep decay. She has been a passionate nurser (days, nights) but there seems to be no agreement on whether this is a factor or not. We made efforts at toothbrushing before but were never willing to be very aggressive. I have no idea whether this would have helped if we'd started it earlier, but I can tell you that since we found out about the decay we have been military about toothbrushing, and our experience has been that we only had to hold her down and brush while she cried (yikes!) a couple of times, and since then she has readily accepted it (''it just tickles!''). If we had done this earlier, at least we would have one less reason to blame ourselves (we try not to, but we do hate that she has to go through this and sure wish we could have done something to prevent it!!!!) Just think - which is worse, sedation and root canals or brushing by force? From where I sit right now there is no comparison :( Amy

I read in Mothering magazine a while back that it's not the breastmilk that causes cavities. HOWEVER, breastfeeding children who are eating SOLID FOOD need to have their teeth brushed/wiped WELL right before bedtime, because the combination of the breastmilk and the food is a dangerous combination for little ones' teeth. So far no cavities in our 2 toddler household

You just mention breast milk, but since your child is 18 months she's also eating regular food. All of that can cause cavities, especially things like raisins. So teaching them good dental hygiene is important, and a challenge as they start to play power games at this age. I know someone whose daughter had cavities by age 2, and another friend's daughter had a root canal at age 5. Our pediatric dentist showed us a hold so that he could exam our son's mouth at age 14 months after a fall. Yes, he cried and screamed, but that was over as soon as we released him and it's just one of those things you have to do for their own good. You're either going to pay a price now, or later when they get cavities. As long as you're calm and comforting, they'll be ok. We also used this hold at home to brush our son's teeth when he started refusing to let us do it, no matter what game or songs we did. Each time we would tell him, we're going to brush your teeth, and we can do it the hard way or the easy way. If he wouldn't let us, we'd say, ok, we're going to do it the hard way and then we'd hold him down like the dentist showed us. That lasted about a week and after that he would ask for the easy way. Once the teeth brushing because part of the everyday routine, we can just ask him what song he wants while we brush his teeth.

The hold is with 2 people seated and facing each other. You hold your child facing you as if you're going to hug, and with his/her legs on each side of you. You lay her down on both of your legs and hold her hands still in your hands and use your arms to pin the legs. The other person puts a finger between the upper and lower jaw in the back, where the molars will grow in, to hold the mouth open and brush. It sounds traumatic, but they soon learn that it's one of those things they just don't have a choice about. anon

My toddler (second child, actually!) wouldn't let us brush his teeth, either. Ever. He was also a night nurser. Around the age of 2 I noticed his front teeth looked pretty bad, and finally took him to the dentist: 4 front teeth had practically rotted and needed caps, and 4 molars needed root canals and fillings! AARRGGHH! All these fillings required anesthesia, but we are very happy that it was taken care of and done well.

A few points:
- Pediatric dentists (we use two excellent practices, Wampler-Katsura (Berkeley) and Matsuishi (El Cerrito)) know how to examine a very young toddler's teeth -- it is not the sustained, long appt. you might think it is. I'd advise going NOW before any problems get worse.
- Night nursing, which also often causes the milk to pool in the mouth, may or may not be a culprit. I recently read that the milk itself is not the culprit in decay, but it can cause decay when mixed with bits of solid food (present in the mouth when you haven't brushed it away). In any case, neither of the dentists I mentioned wanted me to stop nursing, but they did advise to either have some water after nursing, or try to brush (yeah right! In the middle of the night?). I just cut it out entirely because it was interfering with my sleep too much by that point.
- Cut out juice if you can! Our son drank way too much juice.
- Keep trying to brush. In fact, the dental visit was helpful about that -- my son sort of listened to the dentist when he talked about brushing (but too, my son was older than 18 mos.)
- Genetics seems to play a role: I have lots of cavities, and my older child has ''sticky plaque'' that causes cavities despite flossing and brushing. And if your child's teeth look great, they may be great! A dental visit can confirm this. Good luck. Christine

You'll probably get many responses to this. It is SO common to have problems getting a toddler to accept toothbrushing. My son is 3.5 and we struggled and struggled with it. Sometimes, he still rejects it.

I used to be really worried about it - he seemed to be building up plaque and/or stains, and I was worried about cavities (especially because I also nursed him to sleep, so I wondered about the breastmilk pooling in his mouth). But we took him to his first dental visit a few months ago and he didn't have any cavities at all. He DID accompany me to my dental visits, and my husbands, since he was 1.5. I agree that a 1.5 year old who already doesn't like toothbrushing is too squirmy to actually get examined by a dentist, but when we went, the hygenist would always ask if she could look in his mouth as well. Sometimes he let her and sometimes he didn't.

Anyway - to get him to let us brush his teeth, we made up lots and lots of different silly games, songs, etc. Something would work for a week and then he'd refuse again, and we'd have to come up with something else. These games included ''Let me see if you have any monkeys in your mouth - do you?''; ''Can you roar like a lion?''; tickling; a silly song about someone named ''Gargle McGarrigal''; asking to see how beautiful his teeth were, and then making a huge deal about how beautiful they are while I brush them; asking to count his teeth; having him tell me about what color worms were in there, and what their names were, and then trying to brush them out of there; same thing, but with ants; looking to see if Monster Fred is in there, then asking as I brush ''Monster Fred, what are you doing in there! Don't run away, come back here!''; asking if it's a ''cooperating day'' - and then praising him when he does cooperate -- you get the idea. We've gotten really creative with it, and sometimes it still doesn't work. The only things I can tell you are that humor works much better than forcing, and that it has gotten much better now than when he was younger. Jen

Unfortunately I have lots of experience with early childhood caries (the most infectious disease in kids younger than 5). Cavities are caused by the strep mutans bacteria, not by breastfeeding (if so, then all mammals would have decay). I was literally watching my 2 yr old's teeth dissolve (a tooth in two weeks) - he's had 5 teeth pulled and 3 crowns. My older son has a bridge, having had his top 4 teeth removed at 2 (fell & broke them but they were decayed). I had cavities filled every 2 mths most last year, had 2 root canals, 2 crowns. Since beginning the regimen below for my kids, we haven't had any decay since November.

If your daughter's teeth look good, you're probably okay. Dentist visit won't hurt, don't get intimidated: night nursing doesn't cause cavities, sugar residue plus the bacteria does.

For brushing, I suggest you gradually get onto a routine. You want brushing to become like hand-washing - Something We Just Do. Don't traumatize her, just introduce it slowly. Plan to brush her teeth for her until she learns to write; most kids don't have the dexterity to properly brush until then. Some parents have the child lie on his/her back; you can see the teeth better.

You can buy pouched wet wipes for teeth, called ''Spiffies'' at Great for keeping in your diaper bag and you can let her chew on them if she won't let you brush her teeth.

Here is a good list: (where I learned about the following regimen):

To prevent decay:

1. Brush before you eat. The bacteria in your mouth need sugar from the food you eat. It's not until the two meet that cavities are formed. When you remove them before eating, it takes 24 hours for them to recolonize. If you eat and then brush, the bacteria have already created the acid that damages the teeth.

2. Brush before bed and if she eats anything, brush again. Our saliva helps remineralize our teeth during the night but if food residue is on our teeth, the bacteria have all night to create acid.

3. Xylitol helps prevent cavities. You can buy xylitol mints, toothpaste, gum, and ''sugar'' for baking ( Feel free to email me. shannon

18-month-old - major battle brushing

April 2004

My daughter is 18 months old and we are having the most difficult time brushing her teeth. We try to get her to do it herself with our help but she resists. When we do it it for her it is a major battle that ends in screaming and crying. The only thing she is interested in is eating the toothpaste off her toothbrush. She has most of her teeth now and i can see food getting stuck in her molars. I'm getting concerned. Any suggestions would be most appreciated. sharon

We had the same experience with my son. Toothbrushing was a nightmare, until I got playful one night, came up to my son with the toothbrush, and told him (with a suitably dramatic expression) that I was going to ''get the tweetle-beetles out of his teeth'' (based on a character from a favorite Dr. Seuss book at the time). He thought this was hilarious, and opened his mouth quite willingly to let me brush. And I didn't use toothpaste for quite some time. Even now, at 3, I use an amount considerably smaller than a pea for him to brush with, because he still ends up swallowing it all. Karen

I too would like advice about this - trying to brush my 19-mo- old's teeth is a power struggle every time. I talked to my mother-in-law about it a couple of days ago... she raised 4 kids between 42 and 52 years ago. She said that in her day, people didn't even expect to start brushing kids' teeth until they had all of them, around 2 years old. None of her kids had regular tooth brushing until then and all of them had healthy teeth (to this day my husband has never had a cavity).

My guess with my son (and I suspect your daughter too, since she's the same age roughly) is that he is going through a do-it- myself phase, and at the same time his mouth hurts because those eye-teeth are coming through. I stopped with the power struggles and have just been closing him in the bathroom with me when I brush, and letting him carry around his 2 toothbrushes until he's ready to give them up. Sometimes I let him ''brush'' my teeth with them too. As a backup, when I am wiping his face after meals and when he lets me, I use a washcloth to wipe off his teeth as much as possible - he has less of a problem with that than with me sticking a toothbrush in there. Jen

just keep trying, and most importantly, show your toddler how you brush your teeth all the time. don't press it too much, but if she lets you brush 10 seconds, praise her. we don't always get a full brushing out of our 18mo old, but occasionally do, and she now asks to brush her teeth--and the other day was interested in flossing! we always give her the toothbrush w/ a little of the baby toothpaste on it, and mostly she just eats it (unfortunately, she seems to enjoy brushing more w/ toothpaste, and is no longer satisfied w/o it). then i ask if i can help a little, and i usually sing songs, make funny noises, give her lots of praise if she lets me do it. but we're not always successful. my dentist also said just wiping w/ a washcloth is good at this age. after most meals she gets a wet washcloth to suck & chew on. janet

My husband and I have started the ritual of having our 20 month old son brush our teeth first before we brush his. We guide him to where we want our teeth brushed so that he'll know what to expect when it's his turn. That and a yummy natural toothpaste helps as well. Hope this works for you too. Having fun brushing

Try different toothbrushes. Take yur child to the store and let her pick hers out. My son insisted on having the same one my husband has- an electric one- same color everything. Everynight we brush our teeth together. I got him so Training toothpaste with no flouride that tastes like fruit and he enjoys having that as he was insisting I give him my toothpaste. Sometimes he just won't do it and I let it go figuring one night won't cause too much harm. I think it's all about habit though and not making too big a deal of things. My friend has a song she always sings as her toddler brushes his teeth. They also have books and movies about these things you might try those. Good luck. Juliette

I know it's hard to brush an 18th month old's teeth, I have one. I started getting her used to me cleaning her teeth with a wet washcloth first when she got her lst tooth at about 9months. We then graduated to the infant toothbrush (that little rubber thing you put on your finger)and she really likes it. One thing that most people don't know is that you don't need to use the toothpaste. The important thing is getting the plaque off, so if you can even wipe them with a wet washcloth that is fine too. It only takes about 15 sec. to brush an 18month old's teeth. If she likes the toothpaste great! Continue to use it, really work on trying to do it for her, too many parents think that a child is capible of brushing their own teeth before they really have the dexterity to do it properly. Most kids need their parents to brush and floss their teeth until at least age 5. Some even longer. If you think it's hard to do it now, just think of what it will be like when she is 3 if she doesn't get used to it now. Good Luck! DDS mom

This is a totally normal phase. Hold her down and brush. Hey, at least when she's screaming, her mouth is open -- this is better than the clamping shut many kids that age do! It may seem cruel, but to me this is one of those things that is like getting into a carseat. It just isn't optional. And she'll outgrow this within a few more months. Really! You can certainly look for ways to make it less painful for all concerned. What eventually worked for us was to invent different ways of brushing and ask our son if he wanted the ''silly way'', the ''upside down way'', etc. tonight. (This came about by accident when one night Daddy asked whether we were going to brush his teeth the easy way, or were we going to have to do it the hard way?) Now (at 3 years) he comes up with new ones on his own and will ask for the ''fire engine way'' or the ''road construction way''.

I have a friend whose daughter could be persuaded to cooperate with almost anything if Mom could convince her that's how a princess would do it. (''Are those princess manners, Jenna?'' would stop a tantrum in its tracks.) Good luck! Holly

18-month-old won't let me brush her teeth

My daughter's pediatrician encouraged me (along with various parenting books) to start brushing my child's teeth by the time she was a year old. She liked it for a while, but now flat out refuses to have anything to do with a toothbrush. I have tried a couple of approaches (read a book about it, let her brush mine, etc.), but it hasn't helped. So, how big of a deal is this? She is 18 months old now and I don't want her little teeth (working on #15-16 now) decaying at such a tender age. Yes, she still takes a bottle. I dilute the milk most of the time trying to get her off of it little by litte, and encourage undiluted milk in a cup. What have other parents experienced? How did you get your little ones to brush? And at what age did you start to encourage them? Thanks for the input! Mary

Tooth brushing: Sit on the floor. Have him lie on the floor with his legs away from you. Put his head between your knees and have him growl (with the mouth open of course.) Start brushing! He can try to scare you just when you think you're safe from the animal. Or you can guess what kind of animal is growling. Etc., etc. The game changes as needed. It seems as if doing the top teeth first is best because he won't need to spit. Kim at 10 STILL wants me to brush her teeth for her sometimes. Barbara

From: Leslie

My brother is our dentist. I have observed him cleaning his kids' teeth and picked up on this game for brushing our daughter's teeth. We say that there are cavity bugs in there and we have to get them out with the special brush. Many variations on this game can be played, including washing the cavity bugs down the drain, pretending that the cavity bugs can talk and are trying to trick you by jumping to the next tooth, in which case you say you have to get that tooth with the brush too. Then they all end up getting successfully brushed out of the mouth. Hurray! Another victory for you and your child! Also, my brother the dentist says that toothpaste is not essential, so maybe leaving it out will be better than not brushing at all. Fluoride can be either supplemented or met by drinking 8 oz. of tap water a day (EBMUD water, that is. Not all municipal water is fluoridated). Good luck.

Our son went through the difficult brushing phase at about 18 months. We found a couple of things that worked. First, we changed toothpastes. Now that he's 3.5 years, he still tells me Tom's of Maine is yukky-kind and Colgate is good-kind! We brush his teeth by having him sit on the bathroom vanity and put his feet in the sink. I wrap my left arm around his head and cup my left hand under his chin. I brush with my right hand. If he's crying, I let the water run on his feet, which serves as a good distraction. Every time we brush I sing the A-B-C song one time - always stopping the brushing as soon as the song is over. He can expect when the brushing will stop, and I can change the pace of the song depending on how well things are going. We recently started brushing his teeth while he's in the bathtub. Of course, he's a little more cooperative now. Finally, while he was going through the resisting phase, I mentioned it to his pediatrician; she said Oh well, he'll back into the brushing soon. - and he did! Joyce

We had another variation on the game approach that worked well with both our kids. Brushing the outside of the teeth with the mouth closed makes the cheeks bulge out--we found a chipmunk! Brushing the front teeth--again with the mouth closed-- makes them look like bucked teeth--we found Bugs Bunny! Brushing the chewing surfaces of the teeth needs the mouth wide open--we found Monstro the Whale! Getting the inside of the front teeth requires the head to be tilted back with mouth wide open--we found a hippopotemus! It got so all I'd have to do is say, Where's Bugs Bunny? and my children would immediately assume the position and I'd ohh and ahh over how cute Bugsy was looking that day. Weird as it sounds, we all actually looked forward to brushing our teeth! Norma

We have just got a child-size toothbrush for our 15-month old, and he seems to like it, although his dental hygiene at this point consists of running around the house chewing on it and risking impalement. My pediatrician says that's fine for this age (the chewing, not the impalement). Your son is a bit older, but I wouldn't push the issue too much. Let him do what he's doing for a bit, and try again with some low-key brushing in a week or so, when he may have let his guard down. And I'd talk to your pediatrician when you next go in. Maybe a different kind of toothbrush or no toothpaste or an electric brush or what-have-you would do the trick. Wendy (7/99)

19-month-old has a cavity - how to get her to brush?

June 2007

In my daughter's (19 months old) last visit, the dentist found a very early stage cavity on her front tooth. The dentist advised us not to fill it. She asked us to pay more attention and monitor the decay. She hopes that we can last until the when the teeth falls out for the permanent one, which won't be until when my daughters is 5 or 6. I want to get your experience on the following:

1. Is it common to leave cavities not filled? Is it more likely for her to get other cavities if it is left not filled? Have any of you had experience where you were able to manage the cavities until the baby tooth fell out for the permanent ones?
2. Do you have any advice on how to get a toddler to brush their teeth willingly? We have tried different tricks: electric brush, putting in her favorite DVD, brushing together, songs, dance, games... My daughter hates brushing her teeth. Now that we have to get even more aggressive in brushing her teeth, I need to get more creative on how to get some quality time in brushing each of her teeth thoroughly. I'd appreicate your thoughts. Thank you
When my son had just turned two, we discovered a small cavity in the middle of his two front teeth. One dentist told me to get it filled immediately, but two others urged us to wait. Since he was terrified of the dentist at that point, and the cavity was so small, we waited, cut down on culprits like sippy cup juice ( I guess sippy cups ''bathe'' teeth in juice), and used a nightly flouride paste that Dr. Lady Fatima Pineda (Oakland & San Lorenzo) gave us. We were able to wait nine more months until it needed to be filled. Dr. Pineda let my husband stay right with our son during the procedure, and he was able to get through it with no pain medication- amazing!!! (At 24 months, I was frantically thinking he'd have to be sedated.)She has excellent pediatric credentials and was very gentle. I have also heard very good things about Alameda Pediatric Dentistry.

I was able to get him to stay very still during brushing/flossing by saying ''Hey! WOW! I didn't know there was a... (bulldozer/ giraffe/ giraffe driving a bulldozer/ whatever) in your mouth! Let me see that!'' Good luck! Been there too

I had a dentist tell me the same thing. No need to fill it, just do a better job brushing.

At about the same time, my dental hygienist told me the story of how she would have to pin her sons to the floor to brush and floss their teeth...for years. And they hated it then, and thank her for it now, because they don't have cavities.

I did not want to have a constant fight over teeth brushing either, but I also did not want her to go through what I went through: multiple visits to the dentist for enormous fillings because I didn't brush my teeth when I was young and my parents didn't do it either (something I have not forgiven them for). And I am cheap and don't want to pay for something like fillings. So based on my hygienist's advice, and my own experience, we became meticulous brushers of my child's teeth.

We talked to her about how we have to get ''the cavity bugs'' out every night, and about my own experience at the dentist (I had a horrible mean dentist as kid named Dr. Clap who liked to inflict pain on small children). I talked about what it was like to have your teeth drilled. I also bought a Dr. Seuss book (The Tooth Book?) about brushing teeth and read it often to her. And I would fight with her about brushing teeth (oh and we brush twice a day, floss at night). And I would take away privileges from time to time. But we also would sing songs to her to try to make it fun. We would try basically everything. And the truth is that if you are committed (and your partner is too if you have one because you have to both be enrolled in this), then your child will give in and let you brush their teeth.

Try buying an electric tooth brush because they do a much better job than you can.

And we still go to the same dentist because he was right. Now she is almost six, she still has no fillings or cavities, and she lets us brush and floss her teeth every night. Her 16 month old brother is following in her footsteps only now he cries for his toothbrush when he sees it. The Tooth Police

is your daughter drinking tap water? Local tap water has flouride in it. My now adult son has never, ever had one cavity. So first you might consider flouride sources, second, whether or not the cavity is caused by what your daughter is eating/drinking.

Obviously, dental hygiene is terribly important. There are many toothpastes available now that are more ''pleasant'' to children -- orange, tootie-fruity, flavors etc may be helpful to you in getting your girl to brush. In addition, you could have a rewards program -- everytime she brushes her teeth to your approval (getting all the way to the back, brushing back and front of teeth etc) will garner her a special reward. Maybe every day she does that once (to start), she gets something special. When she does it twice, she gets a better reward. The reward should be something relatively immediate (she's too young for delayed gratification). You've clearly tried all the obvious, like special tooth brushes, etc. but perhaps there's something she likes especially well that could entice her to willing brush on her own, even if it's a food that is bad for her teeth (hey, at least she's brushed them! What if she gets the reward before she brushes -- the brushing eliminates the negs of the food?? Just a thought). Anon

My son responds to the authority of others. So when my dentist told him that he had to brush for one minute, he got it. I got him a toothbrush with a timer - a little bulb in the handle that flickers for one minute. You might try that with your daughter - get the dentist to lay down the law for her. anon

2-year-old refuses to have teeth brushed

June 2007

My son just turned 2 and refuses to brush his teeth or to let us brush them. He is terrifyed of having a toothbrush put into his mouth. He has other sensory issues such as getting sticky food on his hands etc and we are working through those but the tooth brushing issues are a real problem. Has anyone had this problem and how do you get them to brush their teeth or let someone else do it for them without holding them down and forcing them to open their mouth. I don't want to tramatize him but am at my wit's end as to how to deal with this. Some people have told us to not worry about it that they are just baby teeth. Has anyone else had this problem. Will his teeth be full of cavities? He does not eat sweets. need help

Hi there. This is quite a common problem for this age group. I have a couple of suggestions. First, there is a website with lots of suggestions at: Second, if none of those toothbrush ''tricks'' work- i suggest just trying to wipe them with a cotton ball instead. It can often be helpful for the really stubborn kids that just won't let a toothbrush in there. And yes it is important to brush his teeth even though they are just baby teeth-- so that the permanent teeth have a healthy place to grow into later. Hope this helps. Jill

What worked for me was my son's favorite character. I took him to the store with me & I was like, look at all of the cool toothbrushes & toothpastes. He likes spiderman so he picked a spiderman toothbrush & a spiderman tube of toothpaste & has been brushing every since. Good Luck! Shelly

Two-year-old wants to do it himself

Jan 2005

My son who is 2 years old is into ''I want to do it all by myself'' stage. So, he would not let me brush his teeth and does it himself. But of course, he can't do it properly and I worry that he will have cavity because he's not brushing it right. Is there any suggestion for this stage? need help

I made the same decision with my oldest and lived to regret it...she did get a cavity that required filling at age 2. After that, I came up with all sorts of tricks....taking turns, singing little ditties ''brush those little chompers....'', telling an elaborate fairy tell about a little girl whose parents let her decide when to brush her teeth (it doesn't end prettily for the little girl), and then when she was a bit older, ''tooth trolls'' were regularly spotted lurking around our house with their chisels and picks waiting for some little kid's teeth to be dirty enough to drill into. Oh, and yes, a few times I had to brush them while she screamed (at least her mouth was open wide!). Anyway, now that's she's six and again had a cavity after I''d allowed her to brush her own teeth for a year or so, we've gone back to some of our old rituals and we both really enjoy them! mom to 3

Oh yes! We used that as a vehicle to (mildly) teach some turn-taking. We told her that she would get a turn ''all by myself'' and that one of us would also get a turn, ensuring that some actual teeth-brushing would happen. We then asked her whether she would like her turn first or last. If she chooses to go first, we have her set a digital timer (she ''believes'' the timer if she sets it!) for some amount of time, like 2 minutes, otherwise she would sit there and suck water off the toothbrush all night. Happy brushing! Lisa

Two suggestions, one that worked for my son when he was two, and one that works now that he's three. As a two-year-old, I told him there were ''tweetle-beetles'' in his mouth (got it from a Dr. Seuss book, a stroke of desperate inspiration), and that he'd missed a few, I had to get them. Made a big, laughing game out of ''going to get the tweetle- beetles''. Worked until a few months ago. When he started insisting he could get all the tweetle-beetles himself, I had the dentist inform him, on our last visit, that mommy must have a turn, every time he brushes his teeth, until he was 5 years old. The citing of authority approach is working well for now. We'll see what's next... Karen

The deal I made with my son is that he gets to brush during the day, but I brush them at night. We have done this for years -- no cavities. Good luck. Jennifer

Our daughter (now 4.5) was the same way. Our solution was to let her brush her teeth in the morning and to let her dad or me do it at night. I really thought this was the best compromise, until at 3 her dentist discovered a small cavity which he decided to not treat because it probably wouldn't get much worse. She is now 4.5 and will be having a mini root canal on that ''little cavity.''

I wish we'd thought harder of more ways to make brushing teeth fun and had insisted on doing it ourselves. ugh

How can I get 2 yo to brush? He's still nursing at night

July 1999

I need ideas on how to get my son to brush his teeth. We do have a nightly ritual of standing at the sink with our toothbrushes -- I brush my own teeth and he sucks the toothpaste (less than a dab) off of his. That's the extent of his technique. When I try to get in there and brush his teeth he clamps up his mouth or sticks out his tongue so I can't even get to the molars. Any ideas? I am really concerned because he still nurses during the night (that's another issue to be resolved...)

Sit cross-legged on the floor with your kids' head in your lap facing away. Then brush! Do the top teeth first because then there isn't as much of a need to spit. He meanwhile growls like a bear or a tiger or an elephant or an alligator or ... etc. You have to guess what what animal it is. Sometimes you get very scared. Sometimes you say you hope there aren't any alligators around tonight because you don't want to be scared. Squealing and jumping in fright are fun too. Etc., etc. Meanwhile keep brushing. We kept this up evenings for at least 5 years. He got to brush in the mornings.

Here are a couple of Toothbrushing Tricks that have worked with our kids. Remember there's always something that your child wants from you, so everytime you go to brush, say, okay, we'll --read your bedtime story-- as soon as we finish brushing.

As with most kid struggles, it helps to keep the task at hand fun, making it a game. Keep a smile on your face during encouragement:

1. Blame the dentist. Remember, the dentist says we have to brush twice a day.

2. Take turns counting to 10: Okay, you did a great job, now it's Daddy's (or Mommy's) turn.

3. Or counting the tooth bugs. Oh no! The toothbug ran to the top teeth... now the tooth bug is in the molars. Phew, I got it!

4. You can replace tooth bugs with any character that the child is into-- dinosaurs, tinkerbell, teletubbies (Now how did that -blank- get into your little mouth?

5. Take him/her to the dentist with you. Have toys to play on the floor while you are being examined/cleaned. Ask the dentist to say a word about brushing or give your child a toothbrush.

6. We found that board books about going to the dentist were extremely helpful before that first visit. We started at 2 years, so that's just around the corner for your son.

I have a 24 month old - he's been to the dentist twice. At both trips (once with me, once with my husband) the dentist has showed us different techniques for brushing our son's teeth. The best way he's told us - that works when Sergio won't easily let us help him brush - is for my husband and I to sit facing each other in chairs and to have Sergio lay with his head in one of our laps and body in the other lap. Then which ever of us has his head will stick our finger along the outside and to the back of his mouth, hooked behind his molars so that he can't bite us and can't bite down either, then we brush. We haven't had to do this very often though, as Sergio is usually pretty agreeable to having us help him. We'll let him brush them first, and then we go over and check them.

I have a selection of four toothbrushes for my 2-y.o. daughter (different colors, one with a happy face, etc.) and she gets to choose which one to use each time. I run the brush across the top of the toothpaste (maximun twice per session), just so she gets the flavor and she mostly fools around with the water, sucking off the toothpaste and chewing on the brush. Every couple of days I get in there with a (very soft) brush and actually scrub the surfaces -- for a long time she resisted and clamped down, but over time, she has developed more tolerance and now she opens wide and kind of enjoys it. It also seems to help if I brush along with her, and really show her what I'm doing with the toothbrush, since she likes to imitate everything I do! Finally, her first toothbrush was the tiny end of an electric toothbrush. It works very well because the short handle (2-3 inches) and small head is much easier for her to coordinate getting into her mouth and moving around than a longer one. Have fun!

I've found some very helpful books to get my son ready for the dentist and brushing his teeth. His favorite is Little Bear Brush Your Teeth in which Little Bear goes to fight the enemies on his teeth. It has a good, but simple description of cavities, bacteria, etc. The second had a bunch of animals that the child brushes the animals teeth with the toothbrush that comes with book and at the end they floss the sharks teeth. I found both on Ann

I think looking in the mirror to see how she is brushing her teeth has been a key motivation for our toddler. We got a small hand mirror and put it behind the faucet while she stands on her stepstool brushing her teeth. A made-up sing-a-long a la Dr. Seuss gets her started up and down and all around, left teeth, right teeth, up teeth, low teeth.

Ok, this was a big issue. They say you need to choose your battles carefully, and I chose this one. All of my three tried to stop the brushing. I was brushing their teeth for them. They didn't like it. They protested. I offered to let them brush their teeth by themselves. They declined. I told them this was NOT their decision to make. (not brushing). Then I brushed their teeth for them. Two of mine required this only once. The really stubborn one had it twice.

This is how you can brush the teeth of a non-cooperating toddler: Wet the brush and stick it and the tube of paste into your shirt pocket. (You're going to need both hands for a few seconds.) Lay the toddler on the floor (preferably carpeted). Sit on the floor above their head, placing your knees over the toddlers shoulders/ upper arms. Your feet should be along side the child's body. This effectively pins their arms and prevents them from undesired interference. Now imobilize their head between your thighs by gently squeezing. Now you have both hands free to load the paste onto the brush, and one hand available to open lips (which will be sqeezed tightly closed by the child). I found it effective to slide my finger into the corner of the mouth and follow that with the brush. Brush as gently as possible considering the lip resistance. Let them up to rinse.

During all of this maintain a calm manner and in a gentle voice let them know over and over that brushing is not optional- tomorrow we can do it the easy way, or the hard way - the choice is theirs.
from a dad wishing to remain relatively annonymous

I did not have much success with the it's fun! strategies. I think this should be a nightly ritual, and it should be something that they just expect to do, like always sitting in a carseat, no exceptions. I also don't think kids are able to do a very good job brushing themselves until they are in kingergarten or so. So for my 3-year-old I have always used what I call the Tot Lock, which I also use for giving medicine. I sit down on the toilet and hold him in my lap, newborn-style, with his head cradled in the crook of my left arm. His right arm is pinned behind me. I grip his left arm with my left hand. Then with my right hand I brush his teeth. Sometimes he is yelling, which is fine, because his mouth is open. Sometimes he clamps his jaws together, so I say OK, whenever you are ready, open your mouth and then we just sit there in the tot lock till his mouth opens up.

Some tricks ... Say ahhhh to get the back teeth, and Say eeeeee to get the front teeth. I count 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 on each surface (front top teeth - 1234, front bottom teeth - 1234, etc.) When he was little and only had a few teeth, I used a baby washcloth to wipe them off before bed. I didn't use toothpaste till he was able to spit - close to 3 years.

My 3 year old daughter has a toothbrush which changes colour when it's used (heat turns it from purple to pink). Since she got it, she loves brushing her teeth -- she always wants to keep doing it long enough for the whole toothbrush to change colour. I got it in France -- I haven't looked to see if they have them here.

Our youngest child is very strong willed and when she said to us you're not brushing my teeth, that was that. I remembered that when I was a kid I hated it when one of my parents brushed my teeth. So when my daughter would refuse, I would suggest that we brush each others teeth. This worked quite well -- she would sort of brush my teeeth and then I would brush her teeth. When I brushed her teeth I would try not to hold her too tight or in a awkward position -- I had hated that too!

Do you want your blue toothbrush or your green one? I didn't really try to do tooth-brushing seriously until my daughter was 2-1/2, but at that time I instituted a ritual (every night before her bottle, even though I know that kind of defeats the purpose) and kept consistent about it (No teeth, no bottle!). As the months have gone by, she's gotten more and more used to it, and more and more involved. Now she spontaneously goes in to brush her teeth in the evenings, and even does it at other times. She has a handful of bright colored brushes to choose from, and a couple of tubes of airplane toothpaste which are small enough for her to hold, and don't hold enough to make too huge of a mess! Every couple of days I get in there and do one real swipe on all of the inside teeth surfaces to supplement her primarily front-teeth do it myself! job.

On toothbrushing, we've gotten him 3 different toothbrushes (one has Elmo on it, one has bells in the handle, and one has a spiral handle). We let him choose which toothbrush he wants, and he usually squeezes the toothpaste on with some guidance (we found some toothpaste that squeezes out in a little paw-print shape - makes it a little more interesting), and then his mom or I often brush at the same time as him. It seems to help to give him the choice of toothbrush, as he doesn't get to choose whether he brushes or not.

My son got interested in brushing when he could select his own toothbrush. But he especially likes brushing in the shower or tub where spills are a non-issue. Also, since he likes to sing, we use a tune to hum while he brushes. I presented a 20 minute segment on teeth to the upper level of his pre-school where we ended with everyone brushing together while humming. Several parents reported a carry-over to improved home brushing.

My orthodontist told me that toothpaste is simply not very necessary to good teethcleaning, apart from some fairly minor fluoride benefit. Have you tried brushing your child's teeth without paste? Wendy

I want to share a technique that has worked wonders with brushing and flossing my son's teeth. We came up with it when he was 2-1/2 or 3 years old. My sister tried it with great success with her daughter as well. It can be adjusted depending on what your child is really interested in. For instance, at the time we started doing the Magic Dentist my son was really into Super Heroes (and loved to pretend he was a Super Hero), so I geared it accordingly. First I would start to create some interest, and say something about an amazing Magic Dentist that I had heard about. I would start to build it up gradually, saying that the Magic Dentist would only work on Super Heroes, and the Magic Dentist only showed up at certain times, you never knew when, etc. Later, I would suddenly say something like I think the Magic Dentist is coming!,and then I would go sit on the bed, cross-legged, and announce I am the MAGIC DENTIST, and I ONLY work on Super Heroes! Are there any Super Heroes around here? I might also say something like Oh well, I guess there aren't any Super Heroes around here today. Too bad. Invariably, my son would take the bait, leaping around with excitement and saying he was Batman, or Superman, or whoever, anxious to have his teeth looked at by the Magic Dentist. My sister, whose daughter is into pink ponies, would be a Magic Dentist who ONLY worked on pink ponies, and it worked like a charm every time.

Then I (the Magic Dentist) would have him lay down with his head on my lap (I would tell him that I didn't believe he was a real Super Hero, and the only way I could tell if he really was one would be to look at his teeth), He would then open his mouth to show me that he was, indeed a Super Hero! I would act totally astonished, and, continuing to talk about what an amazing and powerful Super Hero he is, and what amazing strong teeth he has, I would floss and brush his teeth with no problem whatsoever.

I couldn't believe how well it worked, and my sister had the same results. My son is 6 now, and flossing and brushing is a breeze. We sometimes do the Magic Dentist just for fun, though now he is usually a Power Ranger instead of Batman. He has come to actually enjoy having his teeth flossed, and reminds me about it if I forget. Hope this helps! Sorry to be so long-winded! Suzanne

Do you think he would find an electric toothbrush attractive? I am really a fan of my Braun plaque remover--it gets my teeth nearly as clean as the dentist does. Or there's a super sonic one that my dentist recommended (but only after I'd invested in my Braun one, which the dentist said was fine too). For your son, maybe with an electric toothbrush, when he does get around to brushing, at least his teeth would get a good cleaning. For the sakeof comparison, when hand-brushing for two minutes, the teeth get X number of strokes, but with an electric toothbrush, the teeth get X times 10,000 or so strokes in the same two minutes. Best wishes...

What finally got our daughter to want to brush her teeth was a cute song about monsters snacking away on dirty teeth, complete with pictures of the monsters carrying little pickaxes! Now she sings it as she brushes her teeth.

Another method that I don't recommend, but that worked really well for my mother, was the old guilt-trip method... She had really bad teeth, but I ended up with no cavities at all. She used to tell me, When I was a little girl, I didn't have a mother to tell me to brush my teeth. I used to get big cavities and get taken to the dentist, but they had no anesthetic during WWII, so they'd drill on my teeth only using perfume, and I would scream! You don't want that to happen to you, do you? :-}

When my children were little, we made a big deal of Mr. Cavity, who snuck into children's mouths and drilled holes in the teeth. They would chase him out of their mouths with the toothbrush, accompanied by dramatic sounds and commentary from me or their father. There was also Ms. Tangles who was a kind of witch who got into children's hair, and had to be chased out with a brush; also accompanied by sounds and commentary by the brushing parent.

I have read with interest the various postings on ways to encourage teeth-brushing in young children ... from stories to songs to eclectic toothpastes to electric toothbrushes. We haven't yet tried the electric toothbrush, which may be worth a shot. The stories and songs about teeth monsters, etc. have been effective and entertaining for all involved. What really worked, however, was the corn-blackberries combo, which we stumbled on quite unintentionally. After a meal that included an ear of corn and a big bowl full of berries, Sam (our almost three year old) was quite impressed with the amount of said foodstuffs caught between his teeth, very eager to brush them, and, for the first time, viscerally aware of the point of the process.

3-year-old won't brush, eats toothpaste

Dec 2006

Hi there, My 3 1/2 year old son does not like to brush his teeth. I often have to chase him around with a tooth brush. He ends up eating the tooth paste before we get to the sink to rinse his mouth. I asked his dentist, who said it was okay to eat a small amount. I am thinking small amount twice a day can add up. Does anyone know the safety of eating tooth paste? Please give me any advice on how to get him to brush his teeth. I am so tired from chasing him around. I tired letting him choose his tooth brush( I have 5 different ones at home), and tooth paste Lisa

You probably already tried both of these things but thought I would toss them out there in case they help. I am not in your situation, because my son is one and a half. So myabe these are suggestions that only work on smaller kids. I guess I will know in a couple years!

1. There is something called ''toddler toothpaste'' or ''training toothpaste'' that is safe for them to swallow (or at least that what it says on the box!). My son doesn't get the concept of spitting it out yet, and since he hardly ever gets sugary-tasting stuff (though there is no sugar in it, obviously), he likes it.

2. When we are gonna brush teeth, I tell him ahead of time about 5 minutes so he can know what's coming and that way he doen's have to be interrupted with his playing or whatever he is doing really suddenly (more prone to fight if that's the case). I give him to or three preparatory announcements and then I sit him down and explain that we need to do 10-10-10 on the bottom, and 10-10-10 on the top. Then I count with every brush. ''Aqui - uno, dos, tres, cuatro.....'' Somtimes he bites down on the brush, i stop counting dramatically (like mid word) and yell ''Hey!'' in disbelief and then he laughs and we move on.

Works for us, not sure if it is just because he is smaller genevieve

Six-year-old is neglecting brushing

I am looking for some advice on getting my 6 year old son enthused about brushing his teeth. While I have read over previous suggestions they mostly seem to be targeted towards younger children.

This situation has become extremely burdomsome on a daily/nightly basis. I have to ask over and over for him to brush, only to have him protest, whine, etc. which simply adds to my stress of the situation. I simply do not know what to do to entice some excitement in him over this very necessary task. I have tried to explain to him that how crucial it is to brush effectively and regulary, and have even joked with him by telling him that he won't want to eat jello and apple sauce through straws all his life if his teeth fall out!!

He has already had 3 cavities filled, and is scheduled to have 2 more filled in the next month. While I understand that this is partly hereditary (as I had numerous fillings as a child, yet have healthy teeth today) I am concerned that his behavior about brushing is having a lot to do with. Advice would be greatly valued!

Two suggestions. One is we invested in a good electric toothbrush for our kids (Braun) and that has helped a lot. Not only do our boys (5 and 8) think it is cool but they are doing a better job brushing. Also the toothbrush does a lot of the work for them and so far we have no cavities.

We also use fluoride pills. Fluoride, of course, is more controversial so that is something you will have to consider but there is no doubt that it is extremely helpful for reducing cavities. You need your dentist to give you a prescription for the pills. There are also fluoride mouth washes but my youngest tends to swallow everything so I was unwilling to go that route. (Our drinking water does not have fluoride added.) Good luck!

I'll be anxious to see what magic others suggest, since I have the same problem. Have you experimented with different toothpastes? My son liked Tom's fennel at that age, but not the children's flavors. I use disclosure liquid, which I got from the dentist's office, for I think about $7 for 4oz. It's MUCH cheaper and more effective than the tablets, and shows two colors, one for old gunk and one for new.

The deal with my son is, he has to be ready for bed by a certain time. We then lie on his bed together and I read to him until 9:00 at which time he has to go to sleep. Sometimes he wants to do other things, which is fine, but they must be conducive to calming down. If he delays in any of his bedtime preparation tasks (shower, brushing his teeth, putting pajamas on) it eats into his reading/together time. At nine, lights out period. While I don't bug him about any particular task, I will remind him of the time - reading does not start until all tasks are completed.

I did have a talk with him about the bacteria that eat the food on our teeth and secrete an acid which eats holes into our teeth - rotting them. He has gone to bed a couple of times without brushing his teeth - but then he swears he can feel the little buggers moving around in there and will get up and run to the bathroom and brush!

Our son is now 6 but we've been using the same tactics for the last couple of years. We make up games about the villians of his favorite TV show eating his teeth and causing cavities, or hiding in his teeth. I do the brushing-- although at this age I think my son is better at brushing on his own, I don't want to rely on his efforts entirely. I also tell my son: No brushing, no treats.

Another mother I know has an egg timer that she runs and tells her twins (now 7) that they have to brush for that long. She says it keeps her out of the struggle.

Re tooth-brushing: I bought a Sonicare electric toothbrush that goes for 2 minutes (the recommended brushing time) and then shuts itself off. The brush beeps after every 30 seconds, and the brusher is supposed to stay on one quadrant of the mouth until the next beep comes, brushing all surfaces of the teeth in that quadrant. (I think one model of Sonicare is only electric toothbrush that does this, and it's well worth the extra $ to get the model that does.) My son never had the resistance to brushing that yours has, but he really likes the Sonicare and the way it structures his routine for him. It never really occurs to him to stop before the beep gives him permission. Perhaps you could present the Sonicare as a game or a helper or something that would engage your child in some playful, enjoyable way. Say it's a tooth-tickler or something. Don't know if this would work, but it might be worth a try. My son always responds best when I lighten things up and make him laugh a little. Good luck!

Kids who swallow toothpaste

I have a 2-year-old who dreads having his teeth brushed, mostly because of the toothpaste. Does anyone have ideas on how to make this less of a daily traumatic event? Suggestions for milder tasting toothpaste? What about fluoride vs. non-fluoride? (He's still not very good at spitting out) What we're not sure about is the Saccharin (artificial sweetener) in kid's toothpastes (cancer promoting?). Does anyone know of healthier toothpaste for kids who still swallow toothpaste and where to buy it?

Our whole family uses Tom's of Maine...Cinnamint for the adults, and Silly Strawberry for our 17 month old. Our son loves his toothpaste (does he swallow more because it tastes so good?)...added bonus: no saccharin, no dyes, no preservatives, no animal ingredients. Pretty sure you could find this at Wild Oats, perhaps even Long's or Andronico's...we're in So Cal right now so I can't say for sure. Also, on the subject of the kiddos to allow toothbrushing in the first place... I find that if I arm my boy with my adult toothbrush and offer up my own teeth for his brushing pleasure, he doesn't mind so much as I scrub away on his pearly whites.

Tom's toothpaste has no Saccharin (artificial sweetener) or Nutrasweet or sugar. You can get it almost anywhere--Trader Joe's has the lowest price I've found ($2.59 for 6.0 oz). They make both with and without flouride, this is helpful for those of us whose children still swallow the stuff.

Having read a couple of posts in which people are promoting Tom's of Maine toothpaste, I thought I should share the fact that, according to an interview I heard a couple of years back with Tom of Tom's of Maine, the company contributes a significant amount of money to anti-choice organizations. I would be happy for any update on this, but this was the state of things a little while back, and has influenced my consumer habits.

Here is a url with Tom's of Maine statemente regarding the rumor about their contributions to anti-choice movements. Below the url is the text from the site.


There has been a low-level, but surprisingly persistent rumor that the company and/or its owners are supporters of radical anti-abortion groups. This rumor is absolutely false. The company does not take a position on abortion rights (either for or against) and Tom & Kate Chappell are not supporters or members of any anti-abortion group.

Tom's of Maine has never taken a position on reproductive issues as a company nor have we made any corporate contribution or grant to any organization whose mission is to change existing laws governing abortion or access to it. Because Tom's of Maine respects the diverse opinions of our owners, employees, customers, and retail partners, we do not believe it is appropriate for us to advocate for a specific political viewpoint as a company.



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