two year old won't cooperate with teeth brushing, I am stumped. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 23 Old 09-08-2011, 07:59 AM - Thread Starter
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Since our daughter got teeth I've been brushing them in the morning and her father has been brushing them at night. Once she reached the stage of wanting to do it herself we would let her brush them for a bit and then finish up ourselves.


Recently she has been refusing to cooperate with us brushing her teeth, though she continues to "brush" her own quite happily. Unfortunately we can't just let her do it because while she will brush the very front teeth on the side that faces forward, she won't brush the other side of them or the back teeth at all. Which is to be expected, she's 2.


The problem is how to get her teeth brushed. Her father will turn her upside down and basically pin her arms in place and then just do it over her protests. I'm not really comfortable with that, but even if I was I can't physically do it.


I've tried a lot of "this is going to happen then this" talk ahead of time, and play where she brushes my teeth and then I do hers, letting her choose a toothbrush, even using Mama's toothbrush. The only thing she is interested in is using my electric toothbrush, and I am pretty sure that isn't designed for a little person's mouth.


We've tried a form of time in with her: we don't leave the bathroom until you let me brush your teeth. No yelling or anything, just calm sitting and cuddling and periodically asking if she is ready. It worked once. The second time she cried and railed and kept me there for 45 minutes until she started to fall asleep in my arms. She'd been asking to go sleep for about 20 minutes at that point and I was feeling pretty awful, so we just took her to bed. Sometimes she asks for one parent rather than the other, which would be fine with us, but she still doesn't cooperate with the parent she asks for.


We're basically united on the gentle discipline front and on the view that she is too young for anything other than redirection and modelling of correct behaviour. But her father has much less patience than I do and is a huge hygiene freak. So I am concerned that he will lose his temper over this if we don't find a solution. Also in general I would say he doesn't place as much value on respecting her autonomy and bodily integrity as I do. In short, while I might be tempted to let it go for a couple of weeks so that the built up patterns of resistance could dissipate, he's not going to agree to that.


Any suggestions?


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#2 of 23 Old 09-08-2011, 08:38 AM
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none of the 'tricks' every worked for my son.  My DD is different and open to all kinds of persuasion.  But my son, not so much.  I just did what your DH goes (well, I laid him down on his back with his head between my knees).


As I have read before "I'd rather hold him down for teeth brushing than a root canal".  It's just a non negotiable thing and even now at age 5 he's just not a kid that can be persuaded to do something he doesn't want to do!  No harm done.  The phase passed quickly.

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#3 of 23 Old 09-08-2011, 08:56 AM
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I am with you... There have been other threads on this topic in Toddlers (a recent one being and I read them all. Like the PP, nothing I tried worked for my DS, so we just brush once a day before bed. We let him brush then I have to lay him on down between my knees and brush over his protests. For me, it's not negotiable as I do not want him to get cavities but I wish there was a gentler way, so hopefully others will chime in with new ideas.

Mom to DS born 6/09 and DS2 born 6/12

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#4 of 23 Old 09-08-2011, 11:15 AM
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We went through all this and then ended up making it crazy fun:  my husband tells made up Scooby Doo stories while he brushes their teeth (he is much funnier than I am, so lucky me, he is the most requested tooth-brusher).  He uses a Scooby voice and the whole nine yards.  He tries to include the kids in the story to help solve the mystery.  I've secretly video taped him doing this because someday the girls will want to relive those sweet moments! 


I tell stories from my childhood...the time we all got lost in the bunny rabbit...etc.


Stories seem to work for us!

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#5 of 23 Old 09-08-2011, 05:12 PM
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The best thing that worked for us was getting a toothbrush with a timer device.  One was a light up thingy and another sang a little song, and for some reason this helped with the resistance that we got from DS.


We also got this blue mouth wash stuff that dyes all the plaque bright blue and the rule is he has to keep brushing until all the blue is gone or let us. He likes it.


We struggled a lot with this from about the age of two as well.  There were more than nights than I care to say where he got pinned while the other parent brushed.  It was unpleasant, and sad. and I alwasy apologized, but it had to be done. It didn't help matters that his friend at 3 had a root canal and showed off her gold tooth and DS got it in his head that if you let your teeth rot they TURN gold...ugh.



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#6 of 23 Old 09-11-2011, 04:48 PM
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Sometimes the puppets brush my son's teeth, speaking in their own puppety voices, sometimes my husband tells one of those fab stories like a pp described, sometimes the toothbrush itself discusses the day in the cabinet and what the toothpaste said to the soap, etc etc. As a result of our desire to keep this activity fun, we have EVERY flavor (but we call them by silly names - yummy squirrel tail flavor, not grape) and about 5 toothbrushes. So when choices work, my son actually gets to choose amongst many silly flavors and fun looking brushes. Sometimes all we need to get back in a groove is a new brush, not even choices. It is still a massive major commitment.

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#7 of 23 Old 09-11-2011, 05:10 PM
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I feel for you, mama. DS resisted teeth brushing like crazy. We tried everything - making it a game, letting him pick a new toothbrush, letting him know well in advance exactly what was happening, letting him brush our teeth, .... eventually we had to just hold him down on the carpet and do it. I wasn't comfortable with that at first, but when it came down to it, nothing else was working and his teeth had to get cleaned. After a little while of holding him down for every brushing, he just agreed to let me brush them....we haven't had a problem since. 

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#8 of 23 Old 09-13-2011, 07:31 PM
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Yes, we too had dozens of various toothbrushes...and toothpastes...crazy!!!  Also, I feel badly adding to your stress, but if you can get some flossing in there, that's a big help too...  Despite all our efforts, one of our girls did get a tooth abcess and had to have it pulled.  yep.  A good pediatric dentist will also help your child better understand why it's so important.


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#9 of 23 Old 09-13-2011, 07:45 PM
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They do make electric toothbrushes for kids!  If your DD will go for that, do it!


My DD is just shy of 3.  We talk about the dentist, we talk about how the food we eat sits on our teeth and if we don't clean our teeth we get cavities.  I show her my fillings.  I tell her it hurts when the dentist drills (which is a bit of a scare tactic, but I'm not being mean about it, just telling her how it is).  I tell her brushing will keep her teeth healthy.  We do this NIGHTLY.  It has taken since she was 2 to get to the point we are at now, where she mostly willingly brushes her own teeth, and then I go over it once to "make sure she got everything".


A few times she cried through it.  A few times she tantrumed thru it!  It's mostly non-negotiable that teeth just have to be brushed, willingly or unwillingly.  


I have worse fights with DD over washing her hair.  It's part of my job to make sure her teeth, and hair, are clean.

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#10 of 23 Old 09-14-2011, 09:02 AM
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I've gone through this with my 3 year old too. HE only brushes the front and the sides. I eventually made up a toothbrushing song and when he finishes, I ask him to let mommy finish the song and open wide. I quickly get in there and brush. Some mornings he flat out fights me and I have to hold him down. 

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#11 of 23 Old 09-20-2011, 07:48 PM
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The only thing that works well for us is for Daddy to go into tickle monster mode, then I get a fully open mouth with easy access to all those teeth. She loves to be tickled so everyone is happy. Other nights it is forced brushing. About twice a week I get cooperation.
We used to use reasonable logic with her, showing her daddy's bad ouchie tooth and teaching her why taking care of teeth is so important. That worked for a while, but now she doesn't care.
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#12 of 23 Old 09-22-2011, 10:39 PM
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OH boy this is a tough one.  I used to think both "there is no WAY I'd ever physically force my kid to do anything unless it was literally to save his/her life," AND, brushing is a NON negotiable.  i guess some people struggle more than others.  I have to start by saying I have never really had a hard time getting mine to brush.  Also, we have decent dental history both DH and I, most trouble being just older in age and typical maintenace, mine being the fact that I had a dear friend and college teach me how to be bulemic instead of having to starve (what are friends for right?) anyways....


Both my kids (now 5 and 7) are cavity free.  Our grown up dentist and their dentist have both told me our "extra" habbits may contribute. We taught our kids to swish water at a VERY young age.  Like as soon as they could sit up in the bath.  We have ALWAYS had a habbit of swishing water after so much as a lick of a sucker, bite of food etc.  it's just part of our every day.  TO this day my even 7 year old says "ahh, mom, clean?" after swishing after a hershey bar or whatever LOL.  We use scope mouthwash, because DH uses it and it's the only flavor they stand.  They each have a tiny bottle that is diluted with a little water and do that in the am after breakfast.  They brush with a sonicare at night and use a waterpik.  They actually only scrub their teeth once a day.  Same with DH and I.  Other times we practice swishing and mouthwash but kids and I only seldom, DH is a scope addict LOL!  There have been times they are not feeling well, pass out on the sofa etc and I don't worry.  I think the big things is cleaning your mouth every time you eat. Having a swishing habbit and brushing once a day is better than only brushing say twice a day and not directly after food. 


I have had a root canal, and 3 crowns.  Not so bad but freakin pricey. 


Again, just our story, I am not a dentist!  But my kids have healthy teeth and I think the swishing habbit is a great one if you don't do that already.  We taught them how in the bath BTW, and it's a total automatic thing with them LOL. 



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#13 of 23 Old 09-22-2011, 10:58 PM
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Teeth brushing is really no fun at all.  I just insisted that it had to be done, and I did it quickly on the nights that he really screamed through it.  The phase did pass quickly though, and now he happily brushes his teeth, and then happily lets me finish up. 


I don't do silly games and tricks, but I do have AWESOME bedtime stories that we only get to read if he brushes his teeth (my ds LOVES LOVES LOVES books, so he will do anything to read his fave bedtime story).

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#14 of 23 Old 09-24-2011, 06:04 PM
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I don't know if you are still looking for suggestions or not, but we began having this issue a few years ago, and we came up with a fear easy solution that doesn't involve any fighting, anger, etc.

We simply set a rule that if the teeth weren't brushed in the morning, breakfast wouldn't be eaten. Eventually, hunger gets the best of them, and they WILL do as they are supposed to. It was a natural consequence to their actions, and not something that was decided by anyone else. Everyone else has the same rule.... so, if they are eating, and PUnk decided he didn't want to brush, he could sit and not eat.

If lunch came by and he still hadn't brushed, same story. I think we may have went a whole day until it was almost bed time before it REALLY sunk in to him..and we haven't had an issue since.


I know it may sound harsh, but we really didn't want to make oral hygiene a BAD thing and make it associated with arguing and yelling and such. We knew he wouldn't starve himself, though he was stubborn enough it would take him a bit before he'd give in.


I hope you find something that works.

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#15 of 23 Old 09-25-2011, 12:36 PM
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My daughter was really resisting too.. then my sister came over to visit. She brushed them EASILY playing a game. It's called SUGAR BUGS. She explains there are little bugs that eat sugar in your mouth and hurt your teeth (I think she did at least) then goes all silly looking for sugar bugs and brushing them away. I can ask my 22 month old daughter where the sugar bugs are, and she'll point to different areas of her mouth and let me brush. This works best if she's not too tired though. But it is WAYY better than trying to force things before.

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#16 of 23 Old 09-29-2011, 09:36 AM
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I have not read all the whole thread, so if any of this is repeated, my apologies... anyway, I'm currently working on an article about this very topic (which I'm hoping to get published someplace big--you know, spread a little gentle parenting to the mainstream world...), so here is the list of ideas I currently have for that.

Most kids go through a phase where they don’t like brushing their teeth, but establishing good oral hygiene (and good oral hygiene habits) will be helpful throughout their lives. There are a variety of ways to make tooth brushing more fun.
Small children do not have the coordination to brush their teeth very well by themselves. A good rule of thumb is that when they are able to tie their shoes on their own they will be able to brush their teeth on their own. Prior to this point, the parent should be involved with brushing at least half of the time. Using an electric toothbrush may also be a good idea.

Use a timer ~ Just a simple kitchen timer will do. Smaller children can watch the hand turn, the sand fall, or the numbers change; older children can practice brushing for a full two minutes.

Use an electric or light-up toothbrush ~ An electric tootbrush will help the child get his teeth cleaner anyway, and will encourage him to brush for an appropriate length of time. Some toothbrushes have flashing lights that last for 1-2 minutes, so the child knows how long to keep brushing.

Sing a song ~ There are two upsides to singing while brushing: firstly it distracts the child from the disliked activity, secondly it gives them a timetable. Most small children and even some older children do not have a very firm sense of time. One minute may feel like an hour, or visa versa. But that same small child knows that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is only so long, and that when the song is done the toothbrushing will be done too, and that makes it easier to be still.
One mother I know sings Old Macdonald’s Farm though twice, letting her toddler pick which animal noise to make each time. Another mother made up her own words to “You Are My Sunshine” and sings it to her child as “You Are My Toothbrush.” Use your imagination!

Play Dentist ~ Have the child lay on his back (we do it on the floor), then sit down next to his head where a dentist would sit. As you brush his teeth, say things like the dentist does. “What grade are you in?” “Ooo, that is some ikky plaque down there.” “Does your little brother make you crazy sometimes?” “You don’t like cookies, do you?!” or “I can tell you brush every day” This has the added benefit of making actual trips to the dentist more comfortable because you can practice what it will be like.

Kill the Germies ~ This game especially appeals to little boys. We start with the reminder that there are germ bugs in their teeth, and that we are going to kill them (like a war). Then we start brushing. As we brush, we make screaming noises of the germies dying. As we get near the end, the screaming gets quieter and quieter, until there is just one germie left, and then we get him.

Use a “Checker Toothbrush” ~ If your child is at an age where he wants to brush his own teeth, but you know that he doesn’t do it very effectively yet, then try utilizing a “checker toothbrush.” A checker toothbrush is a toothbrush that checks all around to make sure that the first toothbrush did the job well enough. So parent and child each have one toothbrush, and one of them (either one) is designated as the checker toothbrush. The regular toothbrush gets the first turn to brush the child’s teeth, then the checker toothbrush has a turn to check. This allows the child to practice his brushing skills, while still giving mom or dad a chance to make sure that the teeth are really clean. My children particularly enjoy “checking” over my brushing.

Have choices ~ Have two kinds of toothpaste or two toothbrushes (it’s good to make sure they get completely dry between uses anyway). Each time you need to brush teeth, let the child pick which brush and/or paste he wants to use.

Change or Skimp/Skip the Toothpaste ~ Toothpastes tend to have strong flavors, and many small children dislike them. There are a variety of toothpastes available, so try out some different ones. If it comes down to it, the brushing is more important than the toothpaste, so don’t feel guilty about using tiny amounts of toothpaste, or even skipping it altogether sometimes.

Let the child pick ~ Next time you’re buying a toothbrush or toothpaste for your child, let him pick which one he wants. If he picks it out, then he’ll have more personal investment in it, and probably be more excited to use it.

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#17 of 23 Old 09-30-2011, 05:04 AM
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We still struggle with this but some things we found really helpful are


-The book "Dr. DeSoto". It is an adorable story about a tiny mouse dentist and a fox with a rotten tooth

-We make up stories about the germies in  her mouth and what they are doing if we don't brush. One day my daughter came over to me and said in a very serious hushed voice "the germies are making babies in my mouth". It was hilarious.

-I found a really great pediatric dentist that had an office geared toward kids. Cartoons on the ceiling and the whole bit and they took great care of my daughter and made it a very fun experience. My daughter had a blast and after that seemed a bit more willing to brush her teeth


I will try to find the blue rinse stuff that sounds like it would work

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#18 of 23 Old 10-02-2011, 08:35 AM
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My DS is much younger (14 months), however he's wanting to do everything himself right now, too, including brushing his teeth (and obviously at this age, he's not going to accomplish much on his own in that department). Often when he (and sometimes even his 6 year old sister) is having a particularly hard time with cooperating with certain things, the household goes into goofball mode. Lately we've been acting silly and I brush everyone's teeth. Mine. My DD's (who is his idol). Occasionally even our roommate will get in on it. DS will stand there giggling at us while I brush everyone's teeth for a couple minutes, directing me as to who's teeth he'd like me to brush next, and then he'll usually let me get his, too. With my family, turning an activity into a dork fest is a sure fire way to get everyone's cooperation.

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#19 of 23 Old 10-02-2011, 09:37 AM
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Originally Posted by D_McG View Post

none of the 'tricks' every worked for my son.  My DD is different and open to all kinds of persuasion.  But my son, not so much.  I just did what your DH goes (well, I laid him down on his back with his head between my knees).


As I have read before "I'd rather hold him down for teeth brushing than a root canal".  It's just a non negotiable thing and even now at age 5 he's just not a kid that can be persuaded to do something he doesn't want to do!  No harm done.  The phase passed quickly.

Yeah, I'm with you. It's in their interest, they are just too young to know that. I don't like wrestling my son so I can brush his teeth, but I don't want him to have to have painful dental work before the age of 5, so I do it. 


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#20 of 23 Old 10-04-2011, 04:20 AM
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It's non-negotiable here, too. We went through a series of things that worked for awhile, then didn't, but now at 3 he's cooperating and we don't have many issues.


First was taking turns. DS LOVED to "take turns" with everything, so toothbrushing was no exception. First it's Mommy's turn, then DS can do whatever he wants for a few minutes, then it's time to clean up.


Then that got old, and the struggling began. So I'd just go ahead and take my turn, and make up silly songs or sounds that would change whenever I moved the brush to a different part of his mouth. That was distracting enough to get most of the way through before he'd get mad and start crying.


That stopped working for awhile, and he got his own toothbrush to hold. Then he'd have a turn with that brush after I used the other one to clean his teeth..... Any little toy might help to be a distraction for him to play with while you're brushing. Maybe hit the dollar store for a few cheapie toys that he gets to choose from each night or that get rotated weekly?


After we ran out of distraction ideas, we changed positions. In my lap on the toilet, lying down on the bath mat.... This worked well b/c I could basically restrain him without him realizing he was being restrained since he chose the position.


I admit, one night I lost my patience and was not entirely gentle. He was standing on the stool, agreeing to cooperate, but not cooperating. I was DONE. I just wrapped my arm around his head to keep him still (he would jerk his head forward while I was brushing and I was afraid he'd impale himself on the brush) and brush as fast as I could. He hated being held that way and cried. We talked about doing things the "easy way" and the "hard way," and that apparently he had chosen the hard way. We talked about which way we liked better (both agreed on the easy way) and it became a game. Now I ask him before I start brushing, "Do you want me to do this the easy way, or the hard way?" Sometimes he says the hard way, and I hold onto his head til he changes his mind. (Once or twice we've done the entire brushing that way, but b/c he chose it!) Then he gets to choose whether I start on top or bottom, left side or right.... Maybe giving more choices will help? I'm definitely not recommending you lose it like I did, but maybe playfully introducing the concept of having to hold her down if that's the last resort and then offering options would work.

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#21 of 23 Old 10-09-2011, 04:12 PM
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Have you talked to your dentist about this? Our family dentist said to let my daughter brush her own teeth. Trying to force it could result in injuring the soft parts of a child's mouth. Even if they just chew on the toothbrush, that's enough. Again, this is what our dentist has said, and I would suggest talking to your dentist before you try to hold the child down or pry their mouth open.

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#22 of 23 Old 10-10-2011, 07:48 PM
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I don't know if you ever read Dr Ellie's blog, but I like what she has to say about children's teeth.  It's about good oral systemic health and creating that environment...neutralising acidity with xylitol.  I barely brush my 2 year olds teeth, but give him xylitol gum to chew on (which he loves and never swallows accidentally) and then give him xylitol in his water. 

You can read more on her blog.

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#23 of 23 Old 10-11-2011, 05:33 AM
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My little one lets me brush her teeth without complaint. My older one though was very high needs, and wouldn't let me touch her mouth. I got this special brush called like an Angel Brush or something, and it was one that worked by chewing on it. She LOVED it and chewed on it all the time. She never had a cavity or anything, and still hasn't at almost 10, so maybe it helped, I don't know. Anyway, maybe google "Angel Brush".
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