28 answers

Eighteen Month Old Hates to Brush His Teeth Help

Hi Moms,
My son is 18 months and hates to brush his teeth. I was wondering if anyone has any tips or ideas I could try. He fights me everytime I try to get the toothbrush in his mouth and if I let him do it him self he just eats the toothpaste. I've also tried to brush his teeth during the day hoping there would be less of a fight but it did'nt work.


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What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Maybe you can just let him have the toothbrush without the toothpaste. If he's allowed to do it safely his way, then he may decide he likes it. It will probably also help his motor skills.

I let my son do it himself first, then I take a bigger toothbrush. I tell him it's mine, he gets excited and lets me brush his teeth with it. Also you might want to try this, my son also loves it I sell a product that they use a lot in pediatric offices. It is a monkey head with big teeth and you play with it and teach him about brushing. It is really cute and funny. Good Luck!
www.DiscoveryToysLink.com/LisaRyan LisaM

You might try making an appointment with a pediatric dentist. they may have some tried and true techniques. My boys are young adults now, so I don't know any local referrals. When they were younger they also enjoyed electric toothbrushes which were available with Spiderman and other cartoon characters.

More Answers

Just wait until your child is older. Why make them miserable and stress out over teeth at such an early age. Teeth and dentists are horrible enough. He can be terriozed by all that much later in life.

For now love your child and nurture him. Oral hygiene can wait until age 3. They teach it in pre-school now.

1 mom found this helpful

This is going to sound evil, but I know this topic has come up in the past and people emailed me to say they did the same thing... Good oral hygene is NOT an option in my house-- you HAVE to brush your teeth and you HAVE to brush them well. My hygentist said kids do not have the dexterity to do a thorough enough job until they are around SEVEN YEARS OLD, so I brushed my kids' teeth for them until kindergarten and then started teaching them to do it on their own (and then we took turns for a couple of years so they could learn some independance while I still made sure the job was thorough)... Anyway, I would hold them down on the floor in the living room with their head on my lap and I'd hold them with my legs if necessary. They'd hate it, of course. So when they were old enough to understand, I'd say "Easy way or hard way?" and let them choose. They knew it was going to be done no matter what, so they could chose standing in front of the mirror or in a head lock on the carpet!! Fortunately, child #3 likes to have his teeth brushed so we haven't been through all the drama this time around!!

1 mom found this helpful


I know, I have a 19 mo old son and he will purse those lips together so tight that you couldn't get a toothpick in there much less a toothbrush!

I have found that he likes to just chew on the toothbrush so I hand it to him often. If he takes it, I try and watch where he leaves it because it can end up in that black hole or full of dust bunnies (yuk!). He loves the toothpaste that they sell at CVS, it comes with one of the finger toothbrushes, it's an enzyme type with milk proteins and apple/banana flavor I think. It's the CVS brand.

When we were running out (he actually took the tube and was sucking the paste out of it so it ran out quickly, no tummy problems, thank goodness!) I bought him an oragel with thomas the train on the front because he was interested in it but it was mixed berry so I worried he wouldn't like it. guess what? i was right! it's also a blue gel so it gets dry and stuck on the bristles. I'm going back to find somemore of the CVS stuff.

Hope you find a good solution. He does seem to like to get up on the counter with me when I'm brushing and watch and "help" lol!

Get a little mirror so that you can show him how to make bubbles with the tooth paste. He's still a little young so you don't have to push the teeth brushing just yet. Wait a month or so with trying a few times a week and then go back to your routine.
My son is 2 1/2yr old and is only now understanding how to brush his teeth and not eat the paste as much.

At 12 months I started brushing my daughter's teeth by telling her animals were in her mouth. We brush out monkeys, Beluga whales, Maisy Mouse, ducks...you name it it's been in her mouth and we've brushed it out. She is now 2, and still twice per day I am chasing some fictional character out of her teeth, or trying to find one that she has told me is in there. We also floss using the Johnson & Johnson dinosaur flossers. When we started flossing, I asked her whether she would rather stand or lie down, and she prefers to lie on her back while mommy flosses the "monkeys" out. I hope that helps. I did purchase an electric cartoon toothbrush in case I had trouble. I didn't need to use it, but I was thinking if she gave me a hard time I could give her that to let her do it herself with and the tingly-ness might help.

Because children this age don't quite pick up on the spitting out the toothpaste, make sure you're using a non-flourid toothpaste. Have you tried having him "brush" his teeth at the same time as you, children like to do what mommy and daddy do? Another option, until he's ready to brush his teeth on his own, is to wipe them down with a washcloth. At this age, unless he's sleeping with a bottle or drinks a lot of sugared drinks, he's not in any danger of tooth decay. It's okay for him to suck on the toothbrush and you follow it up with the washcloth. The main thing is he gets the idea.

Our son has sensory issues in his mouth so brushing was hard for him too. He is 6 now and rarely fights us. I started taking him to the dentist I think around age 2 maybe. She puts the little ones with their heads on a pillow in her lap while brushing and checking their teeth and if they are fidgety their lower half of their body is in the parent's lap so mom or dad can hold them still. This is what we did at home for a while. My husband would sit down with our son in his lap and hug him until I got ready. We'd then lay him backwards onto the pillow on my lap (sitting on the bathroom floor so we were in the right room where teeth are brushed). He held our son still (arms legs and all) and I held his head while we brushed. We started with water only for a few weeks and then moved on to very small amounts of toothpaste to get him used to the taste. He didn't like being held down so this lasted maybe 6 months and then we could use it over him. If he fussed while we brushed his teeth we would ask him "Do you want the pillow tonight?" That usually curbed it. He never got hurt being held but it helped keep from the toothbrush jamming into his mouth from sudden body jerks, etc. We had to essentially desensitize his mouth. We also focused more on the front and moved our way back. The back of his mouth was more sensitive. This may or not be your son's concern. One last thing to think about is what he is eating/drinking. We made the decision that if brushing was going to be difficult we were going to limit him to mainly water during the day and occasionally half a cup of juice at lunch(he can't have milk so that is why that's not in there). We also don't give him a ton of sweets. Actually very little. While building up his teethbrushing skills and abilities we have to protect his teeth with another strategy - limited sweets! I hope this helps. I don't know where you live but Dr. Rachel Dermody in St. Lucie West is the best pediatric dentist I know of. Doesn't hurt to start kids young. This way they get used to going and she can watch for cavities if he is struggling with brushing. She is soooo nice and her staff is amazing!

Same problem here. We went crazy for a long time until we discovered a couple of solutions.

My son loooooves cars and trucks. So I drew a calendar on a sheet of paper, and each time he let me brush his teeth without fighting I'd draw a car or truck of his choice in the next box (note that I am no artist!). Each time that x number of boxes were filled, I gave him a Hot Wheels/ Matchbox car (in fact, I recommend keeping a stash of cars somewhere that you can use for bribery purposes when needed ;) ). When he filled up the whole sheet, I got him a bigger toy.

The other thing, which we still do (he's 3 now), is that we let him watch a favorite video while I brush his teeth. If he fights, the video gets paused until he settles down. This is now our standard evening ritual. (Lately he's really into the Wheels on the Bus series of videos -- I definitely recommend them for little ones.) Granted, if you don't let him watch videos yet then this isn't an option, but you might try the same technique with a favorite CD or something.

As others have stated, you will need to do the brushing yourself until he is much older. What I do is brush him myself, and then let him brush himself for a little bit afterwards. That way he's getting in the habit of trying it himself but is still getting a proper brushing. Also, be sure to use fluoride-free toothpaste for toddlers -- it will say something like "safe to swallow" on it. Not every store carries it all the time, but I find that Target almost always has it in stock.

Hi, C.. Well, first of all, I would take a look at the kind of toothpaste you are trying to use on him. I hate toothpaste with a passion. I dislike mint altogether, and I brush my teeth with distaste every day. And I would also not feel very comfortable with someone else brushing my teeth. You might want to consider the possibility that you may be pressing too hard and making him uncomfortable in your zeal to get his teeth clean. He may not be verbal enough to tell you, "Hey, Mom, don't press so hard," and his only way to communicate this is to balk at having you do it for him.

Now, there are toothpastes MADE for his age group. These are safe to swallow, which is appropriate because in no way can you trust an 18-month old to follow directions so well that he will never swallow toothpaste! Also, try to make sure you aren't putting too much on his brush. It's easy for toothpaste to gag a person. You only need a lump the size of a green pea, so don't squeeze on too much. Don't expect him to be an expert at it or to have your grown-up technique. Remember, he was crawling on the floor not too long ago, so don't expect him to do this really elegantly. Plus, he still has some baby characteristics which include trying to appreciate everything with his mouth...and he may still cling to the idea that everything that can go into his mouth should also go into his tummy.

I think it's important to let him brush his own teeth as much as he can, and it would be great if you brush your own teeth when he does his, so that he can see your technique. While his dad is there, maybe dad can give him some pointers, man to man, about getting the job done well. You can make it a fun family time; it sounds like it has become a really stressful time for both of you, so why not reclaim the time for all your sakes? Again, don't expect him to do it perfectly, but shoot for having him get all his teeth more or less. You can also get this rinse for kids who don't brush carefully -- and none of them do -- which will scour the teeth and once they spit it out, they see all the junk they missed. He can't swallow this stuff, though, so you may want to wait until he's a little older to try that stuff.

Apparently, he does not have my problem of hating the taste of toothpaste because he enjoys swallowing it. If you don't like the little kid toothpastes which are safe to swallow, then a lot of the natural Tom's toothpastes don't have fluoride, so they are not harmful to swallow at all. I love some of Tom's flavors! I just can't get to the health food store to get a steady supply of them.



My son is 17 months and loves brushing his teeth. We bought an elmo toothbrsuh (big hit) and they sell Baby oralgel toothpaste for infants (tasts like berries). Those 2 things combined and he loves it. I also brush my teeth at the same time and let him help me (with my toothbrush of course). They sell the toothpast at Publix, CVS, Target, etc... A.

We do the 2 toothbrush method here too. We "take turns." (It's good to practice taking turns at that age anyway.) I give her 1 toothbrush to brush her teeth that she can chew on or try to brush with. Then I take my turn and brush her teeth properly. I try to start from a different place each time I brush her teeth in case she gets too antsy and doesn't let me finish. It's not too much of a struggle now at 2.5; she begs me now to let her brush her teeth all day long. But at 18 months it was a lot more of a challenge. I also used to sit her on the counter with the water running so she could stick her toothbrush under and suck the water off too. While she was distracted, it was easier to take my turn and brush her really quickly. Now, she still sucks the toothpaste off, but she is getting better at brushing by watching me when we brush together in the morning. Don't worry; it gets easier as they get older!

Have you tried doing it while he's taking his bath? Let him play with it like a bath toy.
(Just an idea...)

I let my son do it himself first, then I take a bigger toothbrush. I tell him it's mine, he gets excited and lets me brush his teeth with it. Also you might want to try this, my son also loves it I sell a product that they use a lot in pediatric offices. It is a monkey head with big teeth and you play with it and teach him about brushing. It is really cute and funny. Good Luck!
www.DiscoveryToysLink.com/LisaRyan LisaM

Maybe you can just let him have the toothbrush without the toothpaste. If he's allowed to do it safely his way, then he may decide he likes it. It will probably also help his motor skills.

Hi, C.
I have a 15-month-old so I know how it is!! The way we do it is when me or my husband, or both of us are brushing our teeth in the morning we make a HUGE deal out of it and give her her toothbrush to let her brush hers. After she's had a minute or two on her own, I pick her up, put my brush down and start brushing hers. At first she didn't like it when I did it, but with consistency she is getting much better. Now all I have to say is, "Lets go brush our teeth!" and she gets SO excited. We brush in the morning, and I keep an extra toothbrush/toothpaste in her bathroom so we can brush at bathtime (just started that this week). So now she brushes twice a day....woo hoo! Don't give up, just be consistent and make it a really exciting fun thing....good luck!!

My son is around the same as yours. I ended up buying a cheap one for him to hold while I have his actual one. He gets it wet and likes to chew/suck the water out. While he is getting it wet I use the one with the paste on it and brush the bottom. Then he likes to put "his" in his mouth and when he takes it out again I do the top teeth. We alternate like that until I am finished. I found it keeps him occupied and he feels like he's doing it himself. It did take him a bit to get use to the idea, but now it makes it a lot easier.

You might try making an appointment with a pediatric dentist. they may have some tried and true techniques. My boys are young adults now, so I don't know any local referrals. When they were younger they also enjoyed electric toothbrushes which were available with Spiderman and other cartoon characters.

Most kids are like your son. try letting him pick out his favorite charactor toothbrush. then let him brush himself and tell him what a good job he did. Then say ok now its my turn to see if you missed any spots. Give it time but he will get use to you going 2nd.

Hi C.,
My son is 3 and when we started his toothbrushing routine he was fussy about it too. But with practice he grew to accept it. Like what others have said, singing songs and brushing with them helps alot. I use a power brush on him, which he loves. I tell him its time to tickle his teeth and tongue. He thinks of it as a fun game. Make the experience as fun as possible so he does not think of it as a chore.

My 18 month old fights me some times still too. What I do is I brush them first while holding him. He fights a little but then he knows his turn is coming next. When I get all the teeth I give him the tooth brush and encourage him with little songs. Then I bought those little Dixie cups so him to have some water right after. He drinks it instead of spitting it but he like the routine (mostly) and doesn't fight me to go to the bathroom and brush. Last night he reminded me it was time to brush. He tapped his teeth and said "ush tee"...so cute at this age.

Let him watch you brush your teeth for a bit, make sure to exaggerate those AHs and EEs. He'll think you're hilarious. Then sit him in front of a mirror and make the AH sound and he should imitate you. Brush his teeth and even let him hold his brush while you guide him in brushing.

We have 3 little girls 5 and under here are the tricks that have worked for us.

1. Take to him to the dentist to let him watch the dentist clean your teeth. Then play dentist at home with his head in your lap and pretend you're the dentist counting his teeth, then floss, then brush.

2. Brush the sugar bugs, spiders, dolphins or whatever he likes out of his teeth. Then look way in the back and say, "Oh no, I see another one! Let me get it!" then brush the back teeth.

3. Let him brush your teeth. Prepare to get messy. :)

4. Go one step at a time, ease into and don't force it. You may only get to brush two teeth the first time, then he'll allow you to do more over time.

Good luck.

We went through the same thing. We let ours brush them on his own and sang a song (mary had a..., swinkle, whatever) about 3 times and then said, it's mommy or dadddy's turn and would hit the places they missed. They also like to look in the mirror while doing it and really like it when we brush our teeth with them!! They still fight it sometime, just be consistant!
God Bless,

My daughter didn't care too much for it... so I sing her a song...
(To the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat)
Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Morning and night
Brush them twice a day and keep them nice and white

She loves it.. and sings, too!

I let her brush for a bit... then always take, "Mommy's turn". I usually sing the song twice while I take my turn. (Don't forget to brush the tongue... pediatric dentist told us this.)
She also LOVES brushing her teeth while I brush mine (because she wants to do everything Mommy does.) She has her own cup, toothbrush and toothpaste. (I actually have a set for her in our bathroom, the hall bathroom and the downstairs bathroom so it's always handy.)

Finally, call ELMO. He has a toothbrushing message. (Use the speakerphone if you have one. It's cute.

I have been having the same problem!!! My son is 18 months also. The speech therapist told me to just keep trying and one day he will catch on. I sit him in the bathroom w/me and hand him his toothbrush while I am brushing my teeth and he will try to imitate me. Good luck!

Sometimes getting a toothbrush of a character he likes (such as Elmo) works. Otherwise, I would take a wet face cloth and clean them with my finger while he was playing in the bath.

I had this same fight wth my very strong-willed daughter. I bought three different toothbrushes and two different toothpastes and gave her the choice - and she still gets to choose at almost three. She thinks it is fun to brush because she gets to pick what to use. I am sure this doesn't work for everyone - but it was a wonderful compromise for us.


Hi C.,

I can't say how to get him to brush but please don't give him toothpaste with fluoride if he eats it. Fluoride is toxic and can cause health problems.


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