Doing the Impossible: Brushing a Toddlers Teeth

March 12, 2011

Maybe not too many of you guys know this, but I am a Dental Hygienist by trade – hence the name, Grinning Cheek to Cheek.  Many Hygienist’s worst fears is that they or their children and spouse have any cavities, because it reflects poorly onto them!
Parents have often asked me ‘how do I get my kids’ teeth brushed?’ or the explanation: ‘my kid hates to have their teeth brushed and that’s why they’re full of plaque and they have cavities…’March 2011 092To those parents; I’ve often given them tips – hints like ‘Try making it a game.  I brush your teeth, you brush mine (with each person having their own toothbrush, of course! please don’t share!); getting a cool toothbrush that is their favorite character; or count the teeth as you’re brushing them or other tips like that. 
My son *HATES* to have his teeth brushed.  He desperately avoids it at all costs.  He likes to have control of the toothbrush himself, which is nice – but he is two, and obviously doesn’t have the control to get his teeth effectively cleaned.  He pretty much likes to brush his tongue…March 2011 090So what happens when I try to brush his teeth?  He SCREAMS, Kicks, Cries, and turns his head side to side like I am KILLING HIM!!
So because he does this – Does this mean that he doesn’t get his teeth brushed?? NoPe! (well maybe less often than a child who loves to have their teeth brushed…) But at least 4-5 times per week I PIN him down.  We always start nice.. with toothpaste and his fun toothbrush that spins and has Thomas on it – but then he starts screaming and wanting me out of his mouth.  So I get him to the ground, with my leg over his arms and chest, and one hand holding his cheeks open and the other hand getting the toothbrush in his mouth. He cries through the whole thing, but at least his mouth is open 🙂 
We end with him playing again with his toothbrush and continuing to brush on his own with more (non-fluoride) flavored toothpaste. 
The nights I don’t pin him down, I just give him the toothbrush to brush on his own, its better than NOTHING but not good enough in itself. March 2011 093 So: now when asked by parents this difficult question of ‘how do I get my kids teeth brushed? they HATE it!”  My answer is… “Just DO IT. It is NOT an option… it sucks, but its better to be efficient and get the teeth effectively cleaned with a toothbrush, than paying a pediatric and sedation dentist to get your child full mouth reconstruction with needles, drills, crowns, bridges, and extraction materials because their teeth rotted out.”
How long will I be brushing my sons teeth despite his huge hatred towards it?   Until he is efficient enough to do it on his own.  Even if that means I’m pinning him down when he is 7 years old.



  1. OMG brushing a toddler's teeth is sooooo hard!! We let ours do it himself and then we do as good a job we can in 2 second increments. Thanks for the tips, making it a game is a really good idea!

  2. Honestly – it's much easier (but too late for you) if you start when they're younger. I'd been brushing my girls' teeth since they were babies, and they had their first dental visit at 12 months (1st child) and 18 months (2nd child).

  3. We brushed our daughter's teeth until she was in Kindergarten, then she started doing it herself. Honestly I wished I could do it now she's almost 15 and gets a "fair" for brushing at every orthodontist appointment ….sigh

  4. my kids are great at it. I help them all still, even the 7 year old. BUT, my 5 year old, who has great dental habits, I floss and brush his teeth 2x/day, also has very soft enamel. He has had 5 cavities and one decaying tooth. 🙁 What can we do?? He gets flouride at the dentist every 3 months, but is there anything else I can do at home?

  5. My daughter HATES brushing her teeth. She likes her toothbrush but hates the actual brushing. I really need to start forcing it on her because we're pretty lax and lucky to get twice a week (I know it's bad).

  6. Lisa Noel says:

    mine love 'brushing their teeth" unfortunately there is little ACTUAL brushing involved lol

  7. sublimebetty says:

    I have a 2yr old boy also, and I too have to hold him down to brush his teeth. Glad to hear from a professional that I am doing the right thing.

  8. Blessings Abound says:

    I've been pretty lucky. All my kids have been fairly easy to brush their teeth. I don't do anything special, but I did start as soon as their first tooth/teeth popped up. I still help my 9 year old brush hers. 🙂

  9. Luckily, my son has learned to love taking care of his teeth because of his amazing dentist. I take him to Wild About Smiles! And they do a really wonderful job. It is a fun place for kids and I was very impressed with the staff.

  10. I am so happy I am not the only one. My youngest ( 3 years old) also HATES to have his teeth brushed, and he REFUSES to brush them himself. It is beyond impossible. I too, pin him down and brush his teeth while he cries, and then I snuggle him and plead with him to brush his own teeth! My oldest child ( 7 years old), has absolutely zero issues with brushing his teeth. The issue there is that I have 50/50 joint custody with his father, and when we switch week on, week off things do not remain consistent. When he is with me, be brushes his teeth in the morning before school, and in the evening after his bath. He allows me to floss his teeth, which is great. However, when he is with his father he does not brush his teeth, among other things. My son tells me this. I attempt to remind him as much as possible, but I cannot make his father make him brush his teeth. When he is picked up I will tell him, “Don’t forget to take baths and brush your teeth”. And I will get reassuring responses in reply. These things never happen. I take my children for regular cleanings every six months, and every time the dental hygienist brings up my oldest child’s plaque. I am at a total loss here. I have no idea what to do. 🙁

    • It sounds like you’re doing about everything you can! Honestly eventually your son will get it and remember to brush his teeth on his own! My husband won’t brush the kids’ teeth either any more! Mostly because it’s another one of those “MOMMY JOBS” (much like dishes!) So when I work late in the evenings my kids don’t get their teeth brushed either. It’s unfortunate but you just do your best 😀

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