Getting Children to Brush Their Teeth

My 2-year-old’s teeth are turning yellow because she doesn’t want her teeth brushed. Several months ago she went through a phase of being very excited about brushing her own teeth, but now she’ll just suck the toothpaste off the brush and lose interest before her teeth get clean. She seals her mouth shut if my husband or I go near her with a toothbrush. We’ve tried making it into a game, but she catches on quickly and refuses to play along. Any suggestions you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Cindy


Dear Cindy,

I don’t know your daughter’s diet, breastfeeding habits, your diet (if breastfeeding) and other factors that would determine if she actually needs her teeth brushed or what causes her teeth to yellow. I find that babies who drink formula tend toward yellowing of the teeth. It is not common in breastfed babies and I don’t usually recommend teeth brushing for babies and toddler, as mother’s milk usually takes care of it. 

Please keep in mind that I am not a dentist and therefore have no knowledge about yellowing of the teeth, only some common sense and experience. You are asking me how to manipulate your toddler into brushing her teeth. My answer is: don’t. Her emotional well being is too important and her autonomy about her own body is crucial.

Brushing may be unpleasant for her. Maybe, instead of brushing twice a day, clean her teeth when needed. After she eats acidic fruit or grains, you can breastfeed, give water, cheese, or wipe the teeth with some baking soda or organic butter.

Most importantly, nutrition is much more important factor in teeth’s health than external brushing. The child’s diet and the diet of her mother through pregnancy and breastfeeding form her teeth’s health.

I have passed your question on to children’s dental expert Ramiel Negal, author of “Cur Tooth Decay,” and “Healing Our Children.”

 Here is what Ramiel Negal wrote in response: 

First, grains are significant problem for children due to phytic acid content. If the child is experiencing tooth problem, they should remove whole grains, nuts and seeds from the diet. Brushing could help this a little bit with yellowing of the teeth, but the yellow is not harmful. Many people get some yellowing in teeth. I believe it is a form of jaundice. So the liver is toxic, or their is a bile problem. It depends on what type of yellow it is. Native people have pearl white teeth and most of them do not brush their teeth or they may occasionally chew Neem sticks or other bark.”

Therefore, make changes with what goes into your daughter’s body rather than focus on the external brushing. I never brushed my three children’s teeth. They started on their own at ages five and older. They have very healthy teeth.

So think of protecting your child sense of autonomy and dignity about her own body by respecting her preferences. Don’t get her used to being manipulated into doing things she does not want to do, unless her life is at risk. Instead, focus on building her health from within, and nurture her trust of you, so when the need is truly urgent, she would respond to your guidance.

Warmly,  Naomi Alodrt


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