Brushing Teeth Trauma!

Updated on June 23, 2010
V.M. asks from Lincoln, MA
28 answers

Hi Moms! My 21 month old DD has become impossible when it comes to brushing her teeth. When the resistance first began I made a big deal of buying her a new (pink) brush and tooth paste (up til then we'd just been using the baby tooth brush and water). This worked for a little while, and she learned to "brush" by herself and also let me "help" to make sure we got all her teeth clean. Now, she still gets all excited to brush her teeth, but basically just sucks the tooth paste off the brush and then chews on it with a big smile on her face. When I ask if mom can help, says no. When I sit her on my knee and try to brush her teeth she has a complete melt down. I literally have to restrain her with my arms and legs in order to just quickly brush top and bottom (and I mean quick - if I get 5-10 seconds I consider that a success!) But of course by then she's screaming and in floods of tears (and I am beyond frustrated). I think it's really important that she have her teeth brushed twice a day and that she gets into the habit of it, but at this stage I find myself "forgetting" now and again because I don't want to go through the trauma (especially at night when she's tired). It just seems horrible to force anything into someone else's mouth (I'd be screaming to when I think about it!). Any suggestions on how to make this less upsetting and more effective would be hugely appreciative! Thanks in advance!

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answers from Washington DC on

I have similar problem. I tell my daughter she has two choices: either she cooperates and opens her mouth to brush like a big girl or mama will have to hold her down. She usually chooses the former, yet with some repetition she gets through the actual brushing. When I "hold her down" she is informed that was her choice and it's not something mama even wants to do, but not brushing the teeth is not an option otherwise she will become "yuck mouth"!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

We've always had a son who fights tooth brushing (now 31 months). I've found it best for all of us if I can come up with a distraction for him while I'm brushing. I change the distraction when the novelty starts wearing off and he won't stay still. One distraction that worked for a long time was letting him play with water and cups in the bathroom sink while I brushed. This meant brushing took 10 minutes because he wanted to continue playing after I was done, but it was much less stressful for all of us.

Recently the distraction is Dad juggling while he sits on my lap to get brushed. He only sees the juggling while I am brushing his teeth. In the morning we have found it works to brush sitting on the floor with Dad brushing across from us. He tells me where Dad is brushing ("top ones, other side, bottom ones") and that's where I brush his. Dad's is electric, so we need to keep brushing "until the we hear the funny noise".

Keep at it! And be creative!



answers from Austin on

I've been "wiping/brushing" my daughters teeth since she had her first so she's pretty used to it. There are only a few times that she's wanted to do it herself so I tell her first mommy and then you can do it which usually makes her happy. I also let her "help" me brush mine and then I "help" her brush hers. I also make it a point to brush and floss my teeth in front of her. We've just started flossing her teeth about 2 months ago and she likes it. I explain to her that we are getting all the sticky stuff from her teeth =) Good Luck.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

The next time, wait until she's "done" and say:
"Whoaaa--wait a second--let me see in there--open up--I think I saw a giraffe hiding behind that tooth!" (Slowly get near her with toothbrush in hand.)
"Yep--there he is--riiiiight theereeeeee..." (Get toothbrush into mouth and knock the giraffe off of the tooth.)
"Uh-oh, know what? Now I see a monkey climbing over heeeeere....." (Knock said monkey off of his perch, brushing like mad the entire time.)
"Now we don't want a porcupine in there, do we?"......
Repeat until all of the animals have been spotted and brushed away.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

First, my dentist told me not to sweat the twice a day thing. He said that if I flossed (check out the children's flossers from Dentech) and brushed once a day (before bed) I was doing better than 90% of parents with toddlers. I had been a complete nut about it, but my daughter also began a little freak-out around two years old. I was lucky, my daughter appears to have my teeth and I have never had a cavity--I DO brush my own a couple of times a

Second, buy a couple of toothbrushes and different kinds of toothpaste and let her choose which one she is going to use that night. Don't ask her if you CAN help...avoid yes/no answers....but ask her if she wants to go first or if you are going to go first. You will set up the expectation that her teeth ARE getting brushed and you WILL have some part in it.

Third, if you aren't fluoride-free until she stops eating it. There is a lot of debate around whether it is even necessary at all, but if she drinks some tap-water every day she'll get plenty.

Fourth, don't make it a fight every night. She is testing you and it won't be the last time. If my daughter won't cooperate, I just walk out and tell her to call me when she is ready. Sometimes I discover that she is just too tired to go through the whole routine. A quick swipe a drink of water is enough.

Also, my daughter and I have made a little game. I tell her to show me her monster teeth (open wide) and heer princess teeth (smile). She even scolds me if I don't brush her tongue.

Remember that no matter how smoothly things are going, they are rapidly evolving like little cavemen...we're too old and tired to even keep up!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

My son is this way too! He is 20 months. Sometimes, he is very resistant when his teeth are bothering him (from teething). I find laying him down on the changing table works the best. I try and come up with a new song or game to play every week or so, since by then he is tired of the other one and it no longer works.
Our most current game is making his Sesame Street friends brush his teeth. I take one of them (they are stuffed and a couple of inches tall) wrap the toothbrush up in their arm and pretend they are talking to my son and they want to brush his teeth. He likes it well enough and even asks for the other characters to brush his teeth after I'm done with one. It feels silly but whatever works, lol!
Just remember the most important brushing is the night time, so if your going to do any of them, do it at night!
Throughout the day I let my son "brush" his teeth here and there. He loves doing it on his own.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

It does get a bit better closer to 3 years old...Now my daughter brushes a couple of swipes and then sucks the toothpaste off. She has a toothbrush that has a flashing light inside as a timer. She can brush until the light stops flashing then it is Mama's turn. I don't ask i just tell her now it is my turn and brush away...sometimes with a second brush if she doesn't want to give up the flashing one. Good luck!!


answers from Myrtle Beach on

We had the same problem, I got my daughter the toddler sonic care toothbrush, she loves it now, she knows after the first its me or dad's turn... she likes brushing her teeth so much, she probably brushes them 6 times a day, no joke! Good luck!!



answers from Boston on

Thanks for asking this. My two year old is the same way. It is infuriating!



answers from Boston on

I just bought a Yo Gabba Gabba toothbrush that sings a song - my son loves it.



answers from Columbus on

Something I have learned living the "litteral lifestyle" with two high functioning autistic kids, if you ask a question, you need to be ready to accept the answer. You really did not want to know what she wanted, you wanted to tell her that it was time to brush her teeth. She was probably going to pitch a fit anyway, some kids just don't like to brush, but why agravate that by giving her the power to say no and then going back on the deal by making her do it anyway? It is the death knell at our house, so I don't ask my kids what they want to do when they don't really have a choice.

Not having given my kids a choice, I brushed their teeth, and they gave me a hard time most of the time. You might want to tell her that in the morning (when she is rested) you are going to brush, and in the evening, when she is less so, she gets to do it, but if you give her a choice, expect to hear her real opinion! In any case, it is not really that much trauma to make her do something that she does not want to. She is going to pitch many fits in her lifetime, one over good hygine is probably worth listening to, an it won't hurt her one little bit to "loose" this battle.

You could also take her to the dentist and find out how her teeth are doing. Then at least you know your efforts are paying off, and she will know that it is important.




answers from Hartford on

my dentist said that for the first three years it is all about pratice and it is okay if it is not perfect. she also said not to wait $ on floride free toothpaste, unless you want the pratice, bc they dont do much. w/ that beign siad my DD is 18 mo and has 'brushed' her own teeth 1-3 times a day for as long as I can remember. she will sometimes let me help, but fast and not well. she is a total ham though and if she is giving me a hard time I will get something (her baby doll, these animal magnets that are in the bathroom and her persoal favorite if there is a spider, yes spider on the ceiling) I will tell her to 'show the spider how good she brushes her teeth' and she will do so. I have NO idea if something so odd will work for your LO but good luck!


answers from Denver on

Well, I have a boy but I'll tell you what we do. My son has a tooth brush and I have a tooth brush. And we pretend they are cars and he thinks it's so funny when our "cars" crash inside his mouth. The whole time I'm brushing.... "Neeeeaaarrrr, vrrrooooom, beeep beeep, crash!" If you could find something like this that she is interested in and just pretend play. Good luck!


answers from Houston on

I didn't read other responses but my advice while not pretty is to hold her down and let her know that Mommy will always go first and then she can have her turn. It's not a choice- it's a necesity. That being said.. if you do this calmly and consistently for several days repeating the whole time that she will get to brush when you are done- she will stop fighting. It will not be a fun week but once the rule is understood that you go first and then she gets a turn- it will get better. It is a little easier if you can make it a team effort with your husband helping to hold her down- for a little physical and emotional support. Just tell yourself when she is screaming because you are holding her down to brush that it's in her best interest that a good dental routine be established because cavities are no fun.



answers from Providence on

I think most kids go throught that phase. Somethng I did that helped with my kids: I had my daughter open her mouth & I would tell her I was getting the food off of her teeth. I was very specific to the foods she ate that day. She actually liked trying to remember what she ate for the day with me & stopped complaining during the process. With my son we would do the same thing but look for elmo, dinosaurs, etc on his teeth. Good luck



answers from Pittsburgh on

My 2 yr old daughter also sucks the toothpaste and chews on her toothbrush. I let her do it and don't say anything about it because so far, she likes to brush her teeth and I don't want it to become something that she doesn't think is fun. She isn't too bad about letting me get in there real quick, but sometimes it's a challenge. One thing I did was take her to the store and let her pick out a few toothbrushes and then when it's time to brush, I'll ask her which one will mommy use and which one will Aubrey use. Usually, she'll let me brush. Or sometimes, I give her a choice and ask who will brush first, mommy or Aubrey. This could backfire for you though if she wants to brush first because she may not let you get in there when she is done. Sorry I couldn't be more help. Oh, what about trying one of those battery operated toothbrushes? Maybe she'll be more open to letting you help her that way. Good luck!


My 2 yr old daughter also sucks the toothpaste and chews on her toothbrush. I let her do it and don't say anything about it because so far, she likes to brush her teeth and I don't want it to become something that she doesn't think is fun. She isn't too bad about letting me get in there real quick, but sometimes it's a challenge. One thing I did was take her to the store and let her pick out a few toothbrushes and then when it's time to brush, I'll ask her which one will mommy use and which one will Aubrey use. Usually, she'll let me brush. Or sometimes, I give her a choice and ask who will brush first, mommy or Aubrey. This could backfire for you though if she wants to brush first because she may not let you get in there when she is done. Sorry I couldn't be more help. Oh, what about trying one of those battery operated toothbrushes? Maybe she'll be more open to letting you help her that way. Good luck!



answers from Lewiston on

you have already gotten a ton of suggestions but I thought I would share what worked for my son. first of all, you need to be brushing them for her probably until like 5 or 6 years old. I made up a song for brushing my son's teeth. It was to the tune of 10 little indians. For each section of his teeth I would sing "one little one little one little monster, one little one little one little monster, one little one little one little monster, gotta get them out of your mouth" and then the next section would be two, the next three and so on. I would have him spit after every verse I sung. Worked like a charm though the idea of monsters in her mouth might freak her out too much so you might want to change the words up a little. good luck!



answers from Boston on

Oh I feel your pain. My 2 1/2 year old daughter has very recently been easier with the tooth brushing only to be replaced by my 15 month old who screams his head off at each session. I'd just continue to patiently explain that we brush our teeth in the morning and before bed and do your best to cope with the struggle. It will pass I can assure you, but doesn't make it any easier!! One thing I've done is make buying toothbrushes and toothpaste a "treat". I find that I often am replacing toothbrushes but it's been worth the expense at making the task more fun.



answers from Savannah on

This is normal for them to act like this. The more you fight with her over it, the worse it's going to be and the longer the battle will play out. Just put that small pea size bit of toothpaste on her brush (using the traning kind that is flouride free is best for now) and let her chew on the brush. It's better than nothing at all right? After a week of just letting her do her own thing, ask if you can help. If she says no, let it be and try again the next day.

Good luck!



answers from Shreveport on

Does she have a favorite character? You can print off charts and tell her she gets a sticker if she brushes her teeth. Mine loved doing this and she is 5 now and we still do this!



answers from Burlington on

Same at our house! Complete with the restraining and crying. She just wants to do it herself. I don't let her go first, but she can brush after I'm done for as long as she likes. She says no, but I am Mommy, and she is not allowed to say no :) The past month has improved, so stick to your guns. Mine has learned to let it happen with minimal fussing, since it is faster to just let mommy do what she needs to do. My son is 3.3 and he has been the complete opposite, he let's me brush his tongue, and do the whole mouth even from an early age.



answers from Albany on

With each of my children, I have done it that Mommy brushes first and son brushes second. My 2 1/2 year old now will say, "Wyatt's turn!" when I finish. :) With the older boys, they used to watch Bear in the Big Blue House so I would sing the Brush Brush Bree song while we brushed. The little guy now has no idea who that is since it isn't on any more but when I brush his teeth, he'll go "Aaaaaaaaaaaa" like he's at the doctor's. LOL I still have to be kind of quick and if he starts to fight me, I just tell him, "I just have the front to do/one more side to do" and he usually let's me get that last spot.



answers from Boston on

I think it's a normal phase for many kids. My DD was like that, and actually at 3.5 sometimes she will still refuse. In my frustration I did try holding her down to do it once or twice but I really did not want a negative association with toothbrushing and it didn't accomplish anything anyway. So I tried different things on different days, making a game out of it, singing a song, pointing out all the food I was getting off her teeth (naming everything she ate that day). I also would offer her a choice, will we do it now or after you wash your hands, standing or sitting, in the bed or in the bathroom. I found it was really important to maintain my cool. I let her know toothbrushing needed to be done (by me or daddy) but I tried to not lose my temper because that just escalated the issue. It will pass and in the meantime just try to keep your cool and make it happen as calmly as you can.



answers from Providence on

My 2 year old didn't like teeth brushing either and would just suck off the toothpaste. My friend suggested using a song for brush time and that works well. My daughter will let me brush her teeth while I sing for her. We use random kids songs and I just insert something about a toothbrush into the lyrics- " This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth. This is the way we brush our teeth, early in the morning." Or sometimes we pretend the toothbrush is train and while I brush, I say Chugga, Chugga, Choo Choo over and over again. It sounds really silly, but it has really worked for my daughter.



answers from Madison on

A little trick I learned from other mamas here (reading replies to a similar question) seems to work for us: I tell him the food he has eaten that day is stuck on his teeth. So I go "Ooo, I see a little grape in there, let's brush it off" and then I ask him what else is stuck on his teeth, and he tries to remember what he ate that day. This keeps him distracted so I can give a quick brush as he remembers and says what is stuck on his teeth while I brush :-)
You can also try letting her brush your teeth with your toothbrush while you brush hers.
I do not force my son if he is too tired. It may help to do the brushing a little before bed time before they are too sleepy to go through the brushing without throwing a fist.
I also sometimes just use one of those finger cots with little bristles on it instead of the brush, which is easier to use. You may want to try them out and see if she likes them better.



answers from Bangor on

Yep. We have the same issue. Here's what our dentist said ... If you can only get them to brush once a day do it at night before bed ...... and (are you ready for this) ...Wow! Her teeth look great, you are doing a really good job! So, apparently, just sucking and messing around with the toothbrush does the job, too! Good luck!


answers from Chicago on

We have the same problem with DS who is 2. I figure that just chewing on the toothbrush like he does will do most of the trick. Our dentist told us that just a couple of swipes is good enough for him, so he's basically getting something similar by gnawing on the bristles.



answers from Dallas on

There a Raffi song, Brush your teeth.... I put it on my phone & play it when she's brushing her teeth. It helps a whole lot if you can make it fun. I think you should brush the teeth also at that age. Be honest with her & say if we don't take care of our teeth we will get an ouchie in our mouth. Oh and we do "inspections" after brushing. Its another fun thing for my daughter. We make a big deal about checking, you can even us a flashlight. Try to make it funny. If it looks great give lots of praise, if a spot was missed go brush over. This is a non negotiable in my book. Good luck, hopefully its a phase that passes quickly.

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