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6 Ways to Encourage Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth

A father brushing his daughter's teeth.
Okrasyuk/Shutterstock

Getting little kids to cooperate while you brush their teeth can be like, well, pulling teeth! If you want to avoid a power struggle (or getting bit), here are some approaches to not only get the job done but get it done properly.

Visit the Dentist Regularly

Sometimes, kids resist what their parents want them to do. However, the voice of authority can have a powerful, influential impact on little ones.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend you schedule your child’s first dental visit by the age of 1.

You might think it’s silly to go to the dentist that early—especially if your child only has a couple of teeth. However, when children visit the dentist early, it familiarizes them with the dentist and the office. Plus, it drives home the importance of proper oral hygiene and brushing your teeth every day!

Some parents say their children clamp their mouths shut during teeth time at home, but open wide for the dentist. If that’s the case with your child, try saying things like, “Open wide, like you do for the dentist,” or, “The dentist asked me to check all of your teeth.”

Gamify the Process

If your child still resists teeth brushing, ditch the boring toothbrush, and upgrade to something that’s a bit more fun.

A child-sized electric toothbrush is fantastic at cleaning teeth; plus, the vibrations are cool. This is especially helpful if it’s hard for you to make circular motions with a regular toothbrush on your toddler’s teeth. Make sure you get one that has a built-in timer.

The Brush Monster Smart Toothbrush includes a vibrant app that tracks your child’s brushing patterns and offers him exciting rewards.

If you use an ordinary toothbrush, you can still incorporate a toothbrush timer app, which helps motivate your child. Basically, anything that turns this ordinary task into a lighthearted, fun game should help!

You can also get a special toothbrush for your child’s favorite doll or toy so she can brush its teeth first. The Brushy Brushy Baby Doll comes with her own toothbrush and toothpaste, allowing your child plenty of opportunities to practice.

Lead by Example

Always try to brush your teeth alongside your child, so he can see it’s a normal part of life for everyone. Make your dental appointment the same day as your child’s, or take him with you when it’s your turn for a cleaning or exam.

Sing Songs and Make Noise

Singing songs while they brush is a great way to get your kids to open their mouths wide. You can also encourage them to make noises, like growling like a bear, saying “aah,” or shouting their names out loud.

Challenge them to recite the alphabet while brushing. This can be hilarious and fun, and it also provides an adequate amount of time for you to brush their teeth.

Watch Videos

There are plenty of great videos out there about the importance of brushing teeth.  You can watch these while you brush and help your child relax. Your goal is to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

All of these fun options are all two minutes long (the recommended length of time to brush):

Let Them Brush Their Own Teeth

It’s recommended that an adult brush a child’s teeth until he’s around 8 years old. However, if you allow him to brush on his own, he can feel more involved in the process.

So, go ahead—hand your kid the toothbrush and let her jab around in there. You can jump in at the end and say you’re just making some “final touches” or that it’s time for you to “add the polish.”

You can also pretend you’re the dentist, and you have to check and make sure everything looks good.


Staying on top of your child’s oral hygiene is important. Even if they resist or rebel, you gotta power through it. However, if you upgrade to a fun toothbrush, use some apps and videos, or sing some songs, it might just make “teeth time” your child’s favorite part of the day!

Jill Chafin Jill Chafin
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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