Parenting: Getting kids to brush their teeth

July 5, 2012

My toddlers see my 12-year-old and I brushing our teeth, so on the one hand, they want to be like us.

One the other hand, the reality of opening their mouths and having mom work a toothbrush in there turns them into writhing octopi. You would think I'm trying to PULL their teeth!

No amount of reasoning, bribing, coaxing or tricking works. I refuse to punish them for it, so we just continue to muddle. Most days we get through it, but sometimes they win the struggle and I give up.

If you have the same challenges, here are some good ideas from the experts:

1. Pick a toothbrush with soft bristles, preferably one with a fun cartoon character on the handle. Let them help pick it out if possible.
2. Buy the mild, kid flavored toothpaste so it's not too spicy or minty (the adult toothpaste stings.)
3. Use a stuffed animal or other toy to "watch" them brush their teeth. (I give my boys extra toothbrushes so they can "brush" their stuffed animals' teeth.)
4. Sing a short song while they're brushing and when the song is over they're finished.
5. Help them brush the front, sides and back by saying some alphabet letters: we use "eeee" for the front, "ahhhh" for the inside and "ohhhh" for the back.
6. Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and brush gently. You have to help them until they're at least 4-years-old to make sure they don't miss any spots.
7. Try to brush their teeth in the morning and just before bedtime. (That's in a perfect world.)
8. If your toddler refuses, DON'T FORCE THEM. You don't want to turn tooth brushing into a daily battle that's traumatic. Just give them lots of water to drink and try to wipe off their teeth with a soft cloth (a thin washcloth.)
9. Try a reward system like stickers or points that turn into games or prizes the more times they brush their teeth. Like a "frequent brushing program."
10. It does get easier, so hang in there.
Remember it's less painful to brush now than have cavities later, so try some of these ideas.


Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on

Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.