Updated: Feb 2, 2021
I wrote this post a few years ago, and I am happy to say we are still a cavity-free household AND my daughter (now 5 years old) lets me brush her teeth every night. Wahoo!
A few tips that got me through the challenging periods....
Personalize It - Inspect for foods she has eaten that day. "Are there any blueberries left in there? Peas? Chicken? Oh, found some!! Let me get those peas out." Heck, I still sometimes use this trick sometimes.
Time It - For those really rough nights when she didn't want to open her mouth, I'd promise to only clean for 10 seconds. It was a really long 10 seconds. I counted really slow. But I got in there.
No Teeth, No Books - I read books to my kids every night before bed. On nights my daughter would refuse to brush her teeth, and my normal tricks just weren't working, I would back off. No power struggles for me. In a calm and pleasant voice, I would say "ok no worries baby, you don't have to brush your teeth tonight. But if you are too tired to brush your teeth tonight, then you are too tired for books. You let me know." As she got older, I could also provide some other explanation about how brushing our teeth is a responsibility, and we need to use our energy for our responsibilities before we can use it for reading before bed. I was willing on those nights to let her go without brushing her teeth, but my kids love getting read to so much they also chose to brush.
See our story below and the tips I got from friend, dentist, and dad, Brian Zopp DDS.
I have a major confession to make. I let my 2 year old brush her own teeth. Am I embarrassed by this? Sure. Do I know what to do about it? Nope.
I never intended for this to happen. At the ripe age of 9 months, she was willing to allow me to brush her little teeth until my heart was content. It was total tooth-brushing bliss.
And then around, 18 months, she grew an opinion. A strong close-your-mouth-as-tight-as-you-can-to-keep-the-tooth-brush-out opinion. A bite-down-on-the-toothbrush-and-don't-let-go opinion. An only-if-I-can-do-it-myself opinion.
On most nights, she allows me to get about 20 seconds of high quality mommy brushing. Thankfully, she is very willing to get in there herself and move the toothbrush around for a few minutes.
I know this isn't enough. I just don't have the fight in me to battle her close-lipped, teeth-gritting force.
Along came my kids' dentist appointments, which I was totally dreading because I was afraid that I'd have to admit that I brush for just a measly 20 seconds while she handles the rest.
But I did it. I pushed my pride aside and took the kids for their appointments. I held my breath as the dentist carefully inspected my daughter's teeth, and when he announced that they look fabulous, I almost leaped with joy!
I totally dodged a bullet. I know I need to get my tooth-brushing-mom-duties in check before our next appointment and before our luck runs out, so I called on a friend, Dr. Bryan Zopp, DDS. He is a dentist. But equally as important, he has 2 toddlers. Surly he understands my battles. I asked him to lay it all out on the line. To give me the hard truth. Even better, to give me some tips.
Here's what he had to say.
1. The Basics
Parents should begin to brush their children’s teeth as soon as the first baby tooth appears. Ideally, brushing for 1-2 minutes should be done twice daily, the most important one being before bed. You may begin flossing daily once two teeth are touching.
2. Toothpaste: Which to Choose?
The biggest difference between “training”, “toddler”, and “adult” toothpastes are their flavors and fluoride concentrations.
As moms and dads already know, kids don’t like the same flavors as adults; therefore, you’ll find more kid friendly flavors in children’s toothpaste. My oldest, Noah (four years old), summarizes this point nicely “I don’t like that spicy toothpaste daddy.”
I am not a fan of “training” toothpastes that do not contain fluoride. Parents should begin using a fluoride toothpaste from the eruption of the first baby tooth and control the amount of fluoride exposure by limiting the amount of toothpaste used on the toothbrush.
For small children who cannot spit out the excess toothpaste, only a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste is needed (about the size of a grain of rice). Once children can spit out the excess toothpaste after brushing (usually ages 3-6), a pea sized amount of fluoride containing toothpaste should be used. Children older than six years and can spit out excess toothpaste can transition to “adult” toothpaste whenever mom and dad see fit.
3. Tricks: Getting Toddlers To Brush Well
I’ll have to pull from personal dad experience for this one. The best things that have worked for us are: making it fun, be consistent, and let the kids help.
Rock Out: Put some kid-favorite songs on your phone, ideally songs that are 1-2 minutes long, and jam out while brushing. This will do two things: distract the kids and act as a timer for how long you should be brushing.
Consistency: No matter what, when, why, how, or where, get that toothbrush in their mouth twice a day. They might resist at first, but they will soon realize that resistance is futile! Brush until you say they are done and don’t let the child change the game plan.