Gaining Cooperation While Brushing Your Child’s Teeth

Establishing healthy oral hygiene habits is something that parents can start with their kids at a young age. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts in the mouth. That being said, it is common for parents (myself included) to struggle with getting their kids on board. This is especially true with younger kiddos!

Although I am currently a stay-at-home mom, I have been a dental hygienist for 10 years. I have put together some ideas to help gain little ones’ cooperation with teeth brushing. My toddlers have been my toughest patients so far! I have found that using a combination of these techniques is usually enough to get the job done.

1. Get the child involved.

One idea that can help quite a bit with teeth brushing cooperation is to get the child involved as much as possible. Anything that makes them feel more independent and in charge will likely make them more eager to brush. I have taken my oldest to the store specifically so she can pick out her own toothbrush.

My favorite way to get the kids involved is to have them actually brush their own teeth, but then I have a turn when they are done. It might sound like this: “Great job brushing! Now it’s mommy’s turn!” Sometimes my three-and-a-half year old will want another turn so she can begin and end the teeth brushing session independently!

2. Make it a game!

Another tool we can use for gaining cooperation during teeth brushing is to turn it into a game! This can look different depending on the day, or the child’s preferences. Sometimes I make up a silly song about one of their favorite characters brushing their teeth.

Another way to make brushing fun is to use a toothbrush timer. Sometimes my girls like to “race” the timer and see if we can brush all of our teeth before the timer runs out.

Another fun thing to try is to brush each other’s teeth. While my youngest will occasionally refuse any assistance with brushing (“ME DO IT!), she will allow her older sister to brush her teeth. My eldest actually doesn’t do a bad job, and sometimes it’s just about getting some brushing done. If your child does not have siblings, they could brush your teeth while you brush theirs!

3. Model the behavior.

Our kids look to us to be the example in so many things in life. Oral hygiene is no exception! If you and your child are really struggling with teeth brushing, make sure they see YOU brushing (and flossing). If they see you doing it, it will seem a lot less strange. They may be more open to doing it so they can me like mommy or daddy. You are your child’s role model and best teacher! Modeling the desired behavior is one of the best ways to gain your child’s cooperation.

4. Offer choices.

Another way we can encourage our little ones to brush their teeth is to offer choices. Each of my girls has two toothbrushes and they can decide which one they want to use. I usually notice more cooperation when they feel like they’re in change of something. For kiddos ages three and up, a battery-powered toothbrush can be a fun option. For toothpaste, keep a couple flavors on hand and let them decide which they’d like to use.

Occasionally, changing up the location works and will feel like something fun and different. If I’m feeling up for it, I’ll let my girls choose if they want to brush their teeth in the bathroom or their bedroom (I usually do this before bedtime). If they choose bedroom, I’ll bring a cup for rinsing/spitting. My two-year-old will often think it’s fun to sit up on the changing table to brush her teeth. Or, try brushing your child’s teeth in the tub while they’re having their bath. Sometimes it’s just about whatever will work in the moment!

5. Take the pressure off!

Have you ever noticed how the more you push your toddler to do something, the more they resist? Hello, power struggles! The same goes for teeth brushing. If you’re able to adopt a nonchalant attitude about it, they’ll be more likely to do it themselves if given the opportunity.

My oldest surprised me one day when I used this technique. I simply put toothpaste on her brush and set it by the counter for her. Then I busied myself with helping my youngest with her brushing. Before I knew it, my older daughter skipped into the bathroom, climbed up on her stool, and began brushing her own teeth. If you find yourself struggling with your kiddo and teeth brushing, give this a try. They may surprise you!

Teeth brushing time can be a challenge for kids, and for their parents as well. It’s definitely caused its share of struggles in our house! I hope some of these ideas will help you to gain some cooperation from your young children when it comes to brushing their teeth! Modeling the behavior, taking off the pressure, offering choices, making it a game, getting them involved: which will you use today?

For more parenting wisdom, Orna shares tips for managing all the papers that come home from school!

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