How to get your toddler to brush their teeth

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A huge part of being a parent is caring for your baby/toddler/kid’s hygiene. And it can make you feel totally frustrated and useless when they are refusing to make that part of your job go smoothly.

My daughter recently went through a phase where she would not brush her teeth. This was the week of her 2nd birthday. It had never been a problem before. But one night she just refused to open her mouth. We tried asking nicely. We tried enticing her with rewards. We tried bribery. We tried threats. She didn’t care. She’d rather have her new tricycle taken away than brush her teeth. She’d rather go to bed without reading any books. We were stumped and frustrated. I really really did not want to have to hold her down to brush her teeth. I’d heard many different views on that method and I was avoiding it. But it was getting close to that needing to happen.

After nearly a week of this struggle I decided she might just be bored with the routine. Maybe it was time to switch it up a bit? With a few simple changes we had success! Maybe one of our changes will work for you and your stubborn little one too. Here’s what worked for our family:


1. NEW TASTE. We changed toothpaste. Maybe she was bored and just needed it to be new and fun again? Maybe she just genuinely didn’t like the other stuff. Either way this was a simple and inexpensive idea to try first.


 2. NEW TOOL. We got her a new toothbrush. We made it a fun experience to go to the store for a new one. We told her what we were doing and that it was for brushing her teeth, basically talked it up to build the anticipation and fun. I then picked a few appropriate options and let her pick the one she wanted. 


 3. CONTROL. I let her brush my teeth. I didn’t want her to think this was something only she had to do. So I gave her my toothbrush and let her do to me what I was trying to do to her. It’s only fair, right? I held my hand over hers to control how much force she used and helped keep from her being too rough. She thought this was lots of fun! She laughed and smiled the whole time. Did I end up with some toothpaste on my face? You bet! But if it helped her get over this stage, worth it!


4. LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION! We changed bathrooms. We usually had her sit on the toilet in the guest bathroom to have her teeth brushed. That stopped working so we moved the routine to her sitting on the counter in our bathroom. Maybe her being in “mommy and daddy’s bathroom” made it a little more fun and interesting? 


5. VISUALS. We let her see what was happening. We sat her on the counter and turned her around to face the mirror. She is much happier to oblige if she can see exactly what is happening. She seems to actually enjoy watching and observing the routine now. If there was fear behind her stubbornness, giving her a visual really seemed to  help alleviate it.


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Alternate ideas:
– don’t have a second bathroom? Why not try the kitchen sink and a small, easy to move mirror?

– order new toothpaste and toothbrush online and make it out to be a gift when it arrives. Involve them in the unpacking and make a big fuss about it. My daughter seems to be liking this Nuby toothpaste:

– get a timer so your little one knows how long to brush for when they are old enough to do it themselves.

– get a fun, vibrating toothbrush like this Finding Dory one:


– Use a reward system like this one below. Every time they brush, they get a sticker. It hangs on the bathroom doorknob. After a full week of brushing, maybe you’ll choose to reward them with a little toy or book from the Dollar Store.

That’s it! 5 super simple changes that put an end to our teeth brushing struggle. I can’t guarantee they’ll work for you, but they are easy enough to give them a try. 


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