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How to help your toddler to brush their teeth

From getting them to stay still, to opening their mouths, to actually getting the toothbrush near their mouth at all, lots of us have toddlers who aren't so keen on this toothbrushing thing.

Here are some tips from mums and dads who've been there that might help your wee one get a bit more enthusiastic about brushing their teeth!

If your toddler is afraid of the toothbrush

Tip #1: Dr Teddy

If your little one hates brushing their teeth, try using their toys to help. Get them to brush their toy's teeth, and then you and their toy can clean your child's teeth. You could try using silly voices to add a little fun.

Your child’s development: Children learn by playing and copying. By involving their toys in toothbrush time, you're giving them a safe and fun way to get over their fear.

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Tip #2: Sing a song

Did you know that a singalong can help keep little teeth clean? Choose a song they know and give it a go with a dry toothbrush to start with. But make sure that wee mouth is open wide for the chorus. Maybe they could roar like a lion? Singing your child's favourite song while brushing their teeth can help get the job done quicker. Can they keep their little mouth open as wide as possible and try to sing along? If that doesn't work, then a lion's roar usually does the trick!

Your child’s development: Songs can add a bit of fun to the end of your day together – did you know they make you both happier? Singing for a couple of minutes will also help them understand how long they need to brush for.

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Tip #3: Let them have a go!

Toddler with brushes

Toddler with brushes

If your little one is afraid of brushing their teeth, why not let them brush yours first? It's a nice and easy way to get them comfortable holding a toothbrush and feel braver about brushing their own teeth at the same time.

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Games to play so your toddler will let you brush their teeth

Tip #1: Open wide with a song

If your little one doesn't want to let you brush their back teeth, try making silly noises or singing a favourite tune but only if they open wide. But when they clamp their mouth shut, freeze! It can help keep your little one distracted while you brush those tricky back teeth.

Your child’s development: We've all done silly things to get our kids to do something, and this tip is no different! But playing and singing with toddlers keeps them happy and helps their communication skills, so give yourself a high five for managing all of that at once.

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Tip #2: Let them start

Brushing teeth with your toddler

Brushing teeth with your toddler

Your little one might enjoy brushing their teeth but struggle with those harder to reach bits. Tell them they did a great job, but they "missed a spot". Maybe you could help them finish the job? Talk to them about how each tooth is different as you brush - pretty soon there won't be any missed spots for you to deal with.

Your child’s development: Your toddler learns best when you praise them, and will keep trying if you give them lots of encouragement.

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Tip #3: What dinosaur are you?

Why not ask your toddler if they're a big strong dinosaur, lion, or crocodile? Let them choose what they'd like to be, then ask to see those big, strong teeth. That's the time to ask if you can help brush them to keep them big and strong. Can they make a big dinosaur roar so you can get the back teeth?

Your child’s development: Your child's imagination is your best friend when it comes to getting those teeth brushed. Why not keep the game going to see if your dinosaur would like to choose a bedtime story?

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Tip #4: Funny faces, clean teeth

Making funny faces together in the mirror as you help brush their teeth is an easy way to keep them distracted. Some faces might need big smiles or wide-open mouths. You could try faces that will help you reach those tricky back teeth.

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Games to teach them to brush their own teeth

Tip #1: What is this tiny brush?

photo of toddler brushing teeth

photo of toddler brushing teeth

If they won't brush their own teeth, pretend you don't know how to use a toothbrush so they have to show you. Is this an elbow scrubber? Is it for your nose? Should I brush my eyelashes with it? The funnier they find it when you get it wrong, the more your child will want to show you how it's done.

Your child’s development: Kids live in a world where they're always being told how to do things – so they love being the teachers!

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Tip #2: Use a timer

To get them brushing their teeth for long enough, why not use the timer on your phone? If you don't have a timer, maybe try playing a song that lasts 2 minutes. You can let them know how long they have to go as they're brushing.

Your child’s development: 2 minutes is much longer than you would think – especially for a child! "Time" is a foggy concept for young kids, which is why singing songs and visual reminders like a stopwatch counting down can help. It's only when children are about 4 years old that they'll understand if you talk about "how long" anything is.

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More toothbrushing help

Childsmile logo

Childsmile logo

For more advice and information on toothbrushing, visit the Childsmile website.

This article was created as part of

Play Talk Read

Last updated: 24 Feb, 2020