My son is 6 (almost 7) and my daughter is 3 (almost 4) and both have had phases of being little terrors for getting their teeth brushed. We have at times torn our hair out over tooth brushing issues. We’ve watched YouTube videos of other kids getting their teeth brushed so compliantly and lamented why it was such a battle with our children. Toddler won’t brush teeth? Then read on for our tried and tested tips.
Toddler won’t brush teeth? 11 tips for brushing your children’s teeth
3 year old refusing to brush teeth? We’ve been there!
Our 6 year old is no bother now but our 3 year old is still challenging at times. We’ve tried most the tricks going over the years.
I’m not writing this as someone who feels like they have had these perfect teeth brushing kids due to their own excellent parenting techniques. I’m writing this as a parent who has been there at the coal face.
One of our standoffs over tooth brushing lasted 1 hour 30 minutes before we managed to get those troublesome teeth clean. I know very well how infuriating it can be.
I’ll also hold my hands up and say there have been too many occasions where teeth haven’t been brushed, or haven’t been brushed well enough because we just didn’t have the time or energy for the battle.
Thankfully though, most kids do seem to get better with age and it’s certainly getting easier for us over time.
How to make brushing teeth fun for toddlers
Toddler won’t brush their teeth? Here are the things that have helped us on those bad days…
Brush with them
Make it a family bonding activity. Kids are little sponges and they’ll learn from copying you.
Let them have a go at brushing your teeth for you (you’ll quickly see why they don’t like it too and have more empathy as a result btw).
Even have two toothbrushes so they can brush yours while you brush theirs.
Let the child have as much control as possible
The last thing you want to do is let tooth brushing become a power struggle.
Your child’s agency over their own body – eating food, what they allow you to do to them – is one of the few things in their life that they can control.
Therefore, you need to give them as much control as you can. Let them do it all by themselves at first and then finish off for them if you need to.
Let them choose which toothbrush and toothpaste to buy.
Give them as much ownership over the process as possible so they buy into it. (Much like when a manager at work changes a process and make you do something you don’t want to do.)
Let them choose where they want to brush their teeth – do they want to do it in the bath perhaps?!
Toddler toothbrushing games
Making it fun and turning it into a game makes the whole process much more appealing.
In our house we talk about how there are evil sugar bugs that are trying to eat the leftover food on their teeth and we need to get those ‘pesky sugar bugs’ as we chase the toothbrush around their mouths shouting ‘haha you’re no match for me pesky sugar bug’ and ‘got one’ etc.
You can play a game where you brush different parts of their bodies and ask ‘is this where we brush’.
You can let them ‘brush’ their toys and stuffed animals ‘teeth’.
You can use sounds and get them to roar like a lion to get them to open their mouths wide.
You can take turns so they have a go, then you take a turn or maybe one of their toys wants to brush their teeth etc?
Toddler toothbrushing songs
The most helpful thing I ever did to help my kids brush their teeth was make up a ridiculous song and dance.
I did it when Arlo was a tot and going through a tooth brushing resistant phase. I can’t remember how I came up with it, or if I had heard part of it somewhere and remembered it but over the years, it’s evolved to include dance moves.
We put on a silly voice and do a high pitched off tune note at one point. The lyrics are ‘we’re going to brush brush brush our teeth. We’re going to make them nice and clean. We go up and down and round and round and we brush brush brush our teeth.’ And repeat a few times going in and out of tune with dancing.
The kids love it and it has really helped us over the years.
Toddler won’t brush teeth? Try a range of different toothbrushes
My 3 year old currently has no less than 4 toothbrushes on the go and will choose a toothbrush based on her mood. Her current favourite is the Aquafresh Little Teeth (lion) toothbrush.
My more reasonable 6 year old has just one. Some kids prefer manual toothbrushes, some prefer vibrating or electric. Experiment and see which they like best. If your kids are like mine – colour will play a key role here!
Toddler won’t brush teeth? Try different flavours of toothpastes
Sometimes my 3 year old will be really resistant to brushing her teeth and I’ll realise it’s because she doesn’t like the toothpaste. Sometimes she prefers strawberry to mint.
At the moment she won’t use anything but the ‘rainbow toothpaste’ aka Aquafresh Little Teeth.
Aquafresh Little Teeth toothpaste is specially designed by dental experts for toddlers aged 3 to 5 years. It provides gentle care with low abrasion and the benefit of Sugar Acid Protection, provided by fluoride. This strengthens and actively defends little teeth against everyday sugars. Which is just as well as my littlest has a major sweet tooth!
We are on the cusp of a change at the moment and I feel like I’m on tenterhooks waiting for it – Arlo is about to turn 7 and still hasn’t lost a tooth but it will be any day now I guess.
Soon he will have a mixed smile of little and big teeth with gaps in between. The enamel on our children’s little teeth is 50% thinner than ours and new big teeth can take up to 3 years to reach full strength making them more susceptible to sugar attack which can lead to cavities.
Aquafresh Big Teeth is designed by dental experts to help strengthen these new big teeth whilst looking after the last of the little ones. From 6 years old, kids can also use Aquafresh’s Big Teeth mouthwashes and cool Big Teeth brushes too.
Toddler won’t brush teeth? Try using apps, videos and books
One of the trickiest things about getting your kids to clean their teeth is getting them to do it for the required whole two minutes.
I find YouTube videos and apps really helpful here.
One of the apps we use is Aquafresh’s all-singing, all-dancing, brush time app. In it, Captain Aquafresh and the Nurdles sing and dance while your little ones brush. The app has a timer that counts down the recommended two minutes.
It really helps keep our kids engaged brushing their teeth properly for the full two minutes. I do warn you though, the song is a real ear worm – you’ll be humming it long after the kids have gone to bed.
You can also try an hourglass so that kids can physically see the time running down.
Books are also helpful to teach your children why brushing their teeth is so important.
Tooth fairy tales
This isn’t very ‘gentle parenting’ of us but we do talk about the tooth fairy in our house and how it’s important to keep the teeth nice and clean for her.
The cleaner the teeth, the more money she’ll bring usually gets my 6 year old back to brushing when he’s feeling a bit lazy or tired.
Creating a reward chart isn’t something we’ve tried yet but I know works for some.
Every time the kids brush for the full 2 minutes they could get a sticker and then a certain amount of stickers can equal a prize.
Giving them a mirror
A recent trick we have tried for my 6 year old who was struggling to clean his very back teeth properly was to give him his own small mirror.
Even with the step, our children struggle to see in our mirrors properly and can’t visualise what they are doing well.
If you think about it, even you will look in the mirror occasionally when brushing your teeth. Now Arlo is able to check where he is brushing and see whether his teeth are looking clean.
With older children you can also try dental disclosing tablets after brushing to show them how many ‘germs’ still remain so they can see where they aren’t getting.
Use their siblings
If your child has siblings, get them helping each other. I
n our house, some days, Daddy and Mammy will not do but big brother is her favourite and he can help his little sister (and mammy’s sanity).
Don’t forget these good to know toddler toothbrushing guidelines
- Children aged 6 and under should be supervised when brushing
- For children aged 3 years and under, use a small smear of toothpaste
- For children over 3 years, use a pea sized amount of toothpaste
- Once they have a full set of teeth, brush for 2 minutes, twice a day so that it becomes part of your child’s daily routine
- If they have fewer than a full set of teeth, you should brush for a shorter amount of time
- Do not let them swallow the toothpaste – encourage them to spit out after brushing
How are your kids for brushing their teeth? Angels or devils?
Have you tried these tips? Are there any of them you haven’t tried but will?
Do you have any tricks I’ve not covered?
Share with me in the comments and share this post with anyone you think it might help.
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Disclaimer: This is advertorial content for Aquafresh in January 2019 but this post was last updated in March 2023. This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. For my full Disclosure Policy, please see my about page.