Teaching your child to take care of their teeth is just one way you can show them how to take responsibility for their body. This can be a challenge because toddlers are motivated mainly by fun and pleasure, not by health and necessity. If you want to end your child’s resistance to brushing, your best bet is to make this chore a fun ritual for them. They will eventually catch on that brushing their teeth is a regular and necessary part of taking care of their whole body—and they’ll enjoy doing it. Here are some tricks you can use to make it fun!
Make the toothbrush a toy. Let them play with it (not by running around with it in their mouth). Most kids will “play” with a toothbrush by biting or sucking on it, but doing so will help them get used to having a toothbrush in their mouth. There are some electric toothbrushes that play songs. There are cool smart phone apps (Disney, Brusheez, Chomper Chums, etc.). Create the impression that tooth brushing is fun.
Play show and tell. While you are showing your child how to “play” with the toothbrush, talk about the “sticky stuff” that collects on all of our teeth. Tell them about the “sugar bugs” that will cause holes in their teeth and make them so they are not strong and white. If you have a cavity that is filled or crowned, show it to your child to reinforce this point. Show them how to brush their teddy bear’s “teeth,” or even let them brush yours!
Play copycat. Capitalize on a toddler’s natural desire to mimic fun activities they see. Bring them into the bathroom with you to watch you brush your teeth. Be sure to lay out their toothbrush where they can reach it. While you are brushing, exaggerate a show of excitement. They’ll likely be encouraged to copy what you’re doing.
Open a toddler-friendly “book”. Your local library (or Amazon.com) has many children’s books with “dental hygiene” storylines (Berenstain Bears, Dr. Seuss, etc.). If your child learns better by visualizing, there are many excellent tooth brushing videos available on YouTube. Sharing this information with them will make dental hygiene fun, familiar and non-threatening.
When nothing else will work. Take advantage of your child’s normal environmental “restraints” such as a high-chair, a bathtub ring or another parent’s lap to gain access to his mouth. Even if they cry a bit, you will gain better visualization of his mouth. Your goals would be to quickly inspect, brush and reinforce the importance of this routine. Toothpaste does not necessarily need to be used at this young age. Flossing can be introduced later as they become accustomed to the tooth brushing ritual.
An ounce of prevention. As a parent, you have control of your child’s diet. Minimizing sugary drink consumption and ensuring that they never go to bed with any drink other than water will help prevent cavities before they start.