When Your Child Refuses to Brush Her Teeth

Ah, the joys of parenting. Holding your child while she’s getting bloodwork done is cringeworthy, but at least it only happens every once in a while. Holding your child while she’s getting her teeth brushed, though, is no less traumatizing. And it’s supposed to happen every night!
Wrapping your child in a bear hug and forcing the toothbrush into her mouth isn’t going to bode well for her future attitude towards dental care. But letting her brush her own teeth will drive your dental bill – and your child’s stressful experiences with a dentist’s drill – through the roof! Getting your child’s teeth brushed, though, doesn’t have to be a struggle. I know, because I’ve been there. My three kids now brush their teeth with minimal fuss each night, and it didn’t used to be that way. Here’s what I’ve done to make it happen.

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy
As with all behavioral issues you’ll encounter, the key response is empathy: “Aw, you don’t want to brush your teeth right now? I know, sweetie. You want to get straight into bed, you’re so tired.”

You can follow up the empathy by some distractions to keep his mind or hands busy so that he won’t put up a fight. That might mean saving a special toy for toothbrushing time, singing a favorite song while you brush, moving the process to the bath so you can brush while he plays, or even brushing while he’s watching television.

Monkey See, Monkey Do
Kids want to be “just like Mommy and Daddy,” so consider making toothbrushing into a family event. Let your child brush your teeth with your own brush, and then take turns brushing each other’s teeth. If you’re really brave, let your spouse, or someone else, brush your teeth while your child watches. Show your child that having someone else brush your teeth can be fun!

I Can Do It Myself!
Toddlers love to be independent. If your toddler balks when you try to brush her teeth, use her independence as a reward: “First Daddy brushes your teeth while we count to ten, and then you brush your teeth while we count to ten.” Rinse and repeat until the teeth are clean.

Make It Fun
And then there are all the creative methods that parents around the world have come up with in order to make toothbrushing into a fun, enjoyable experience that your child will actually want to have. That might mean letting your child pick out a toothbrush and toothpaste marked with his favorite cartoon character, singing toothbrushing songs as you brush, or calling out “ONE! TWO! THREE! SPIT!”
For kids who dig in their heels, you might want to go to even greater extremes. Talk about the “ewwy germies” that lurk in your child’s mouth and keep up a running monologue about which germies you’re going to eat up with the toothbrush next. You could have your child list the foods that he ate earlier that day and pretend to brush off each type of food: “Yes! I got off the peanut butter! I’m the strongest toothbrush ever! Uh oh. Here comes the jelly…” You can use an electric toothbrush and tell your child that you’re going to tickle his teeth with it (side benefit of an electric toothbrush: it’s easier to brush inside a squirmy kid’s mouth when the brush does the gyrating for you).
Whichever technique you use, make sure to make toothbrushing into a happy time for your child, and your efforts (yes, it does take effort!) will lead to your child becoming a toothbrushing pro.

By Keren Perles
BabyChatter Contributor