Tips for Getting Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth (Without the Tantrums)

Parents who’ve been there share how they got their kids into a healthy brushing routine.
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By Kate Traverson, Senior Manager: Branded Content
Updated July 20, 2020
toddler brushing teeth in sink
Image: Shannon Peterson

Anyone who’s lived with a toddler knows the struggle of trying to make them do something they don’t want to do (hello, dinnertime). But when it comes to dental health, it’s important to get them brushing early and often to establish good hygiene habits from the start. So how do you convince them to do it? We asked The Bump users and a few mom Instagrammers to tell us what worked for their families, from singing a song to picking out a special toothbrush. Below, real parents share their tips for getting toddlers excited to brush.

Start Them Early

“We start introducing a toothbrush as early as possible. As soon as my little one starts teething, we give him a toothbrush to ‘gum,’ and start brushing his gums for him to help alleviate some of the pressure. It’s a win-win for us, because it’s a daily habit that becomes part of his (and our) routine, and it helps get him used to the sensation of the bristles.” —Shannon Peterson of @shynnz, mom to Harrison, 3 years old, and Jude, one year old

“We started at a very, very young age and made it a routine. We also get him special toothbrushes, and lately he uses an electric one. He loves to play with the buttons.” —Emilie, mom to JP, 3 years old

“It’s a good idea to start the little ones off early with practicing good hygiene by implementing a nighttime routine: a warm bath, a nice book, a yummy bottle and brushing to ensure healthy, clean teeth. The same goes for a great morning routine.” —Linda Vuong of @hausofcolor, mom to Preston, one year old

Lead by Example

“The faster you expose them to the idea of brushing their teeth, the more they’ll be open to it when they get all their little teeth. A great way of inspiring them to do it is by brushing your own teeth in front of them, since kids like to do what their parents do.” —Yuena Li of @simplyyue, mom to Harper, 9 months old

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“I brush my own teeth with her so she feels like a big girl doing something that mommy does. We also have her stand up on a stool so she can watch herself in the mirror while she’s brushing.” —Christina C., mom to Willow, 17 months old

“My tip for good hygiene with kids is setting positive examples for them. I started early on with my kids taking them into the bathroom with me when I would wash my face and brush my teeth…We still brush our teeth as a family every night.” —Jessica Fay of @lipstickheelsandababy, mom to Braydon, 5 years old; Walker, 2 years old; and Charli, 3 months old

Let Them Choose

“After much struggle, we finally let her pick out her own toothbrush. Now she’s more excited to brush.” —Sara M., mom to Audrey, 3 years old

“We let Charlie pick out his toothbrush with his favorite character. Travis just follows whatever his big brother does!” —Mara N., mom to Charlie, 4 years old, and Travis, 2 years old

“Each child picks their own toothbrush and toothpaste. Letting them choose their favorite character and flavor gives them a little control and makes them feel grown up.” —Rovena S., mom to Andrew, 5 years old; Daniel, 3 years old; and Alex, 11 months old

Offer a Reward

“We used an app on the iPad that gave her stickers if she brushed. She always wanted to collect more. Now she refuses to go to bed without brushing her teeth.” —Dan M., dad to Julia, 4 years old

“We give him his vitamin right after, which he thinks is candy, so he always wants to brush his teeth to get it.” —Maribeth C., mom to CJ, 2 years old

“We use a great app that times it. It has a secret picture covered with bubbles and as the time goes on, a toothbrush brushes the bubbles away to reveal the picture. My girls love finding out what picture is below the bubbles!” —Kara Y., mom to Fallon, 5 years old; Porter, 3 years old; Rowan, 2 years old; and Ari, 3 months old

Make it Fun

“We encourage my son to brush his teeth every morning and night. We talk about how much fun it is! When he sees how excited we are about cleaning our pearly whites, he’ll typically want to join in.” —Vanessa Lambert of @whatwouldvwear, mom to Kingston, 5 years old, and Jaxson, 6 months old

“We tell James that we have to get the cavity ‘monsters.’ We also sing songs, usually the ABCs, to time how long to brush.” —Natalie B., mom to James, 3 years old

“We usually watch Elmo’s brushing teeth song, and lately what works is telling him he has sprinkles stuck in his teeth so he has to brush really well to get them out.” —Alyssa G., mom to Caleb, 2 years old

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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