From the first baby tooth through the last adult molar, your child’s teeth are important. They play a role in nutrition, speech development, and more. Find out when and in what order your baby’s teeth will come in and how to soothe teething pain. Teach your toddler good brushing basics (and learn how to avoid nightly battles). Discover how to handle a wiggly tooth and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy gums and teeth.

How can I get my toddler to cooperate when I brush her teeth?

The simple answer is “with difficulty”! Still, dental hygiene isn’t something you can — or should — avoid for long. In fact, as your child gets more teeth and eats more foods (including sweets) that might get stuck between those teeth, regular brushing becomes increasingly important.

Different children respond to different tactics, so you may need to experiment. 

Toddlers love copying most everything their parents do, so it’s well worth it to make sure that one of those things is toothbrushing. Start by buying identically colored brushes for him and you. Next, sit with your child on the bathroom floor so he can see what you’re doing with the toothbrush and try to mimic it. Use a cup for rinsing and a bowl or the bathtub for spitting; each time your toddler puts the brush in his mouth, he earns the right to spit (undoubtedly a toddler’s favorite part of the process!).

Once your child is willing to put the toothbrush in his mouth, move on to the next step: letting him hold your brush and “brush” your teeth with it while you do a thorough job on his. (Don’t share toothbrushes, though, because the bacteria that cause tooth decay can spread from your mouth to his.)

If this ploy doesn’t work, don’t push it. As you’ve already discovered, you can’t force the toothbrush into your child’s mouth without hurting or at least scaring him.

Learn how to make tooth brushing time fun for your little one.

Some other tricks: Let your toddler climb up on a footstool (with you behind him for safety) so he can see himself in the bathroom mirror. As he stares at the reflection of the two of you, point to and count his teeth and yours. Then touch each tooth with the brush “to give it its share of toothpaste.”

Use whatever toothpaste he likes most — this may have more to do with what’s on the tube than in it. No matter what kind he chooses, though, be careful to use only a tiny dab and store it in a place where he can’t help himself. It may also help to name each tooth as you attend to it so he’s persuaded that no single tooth should be left out. This will appeal to his sense of justice and help keep his mouth open when boredom looms.

No matter how you tackle toothbrushing, don’t assume that it’ll be easy — and don’t expect perfection. Few toddlers are consistently cooperative about getting their teeth brushed. What’s more, even if your child becomes positively enthusiastic about dental care and brushes his teeth with gusto, he lacks the manual dexterity to do a thorough job. Match his tooth-cleaning attempts with thorough cleaning of your own.

Tasty Clean