Help with Tooth Brushing

Updated on March 21, 2008
E.A. asks from Wheaton, IL
35 answers

Does anyone have any tips for getting my 22 month old to let me brush his teeth? I have tried Elmo tooth brushes and brushing my own teeth with him. All he wants to do is suck the tooth paste off and ask for seconds! He won't let me anywhere near his molars. Should I worried he will be getting cavities at this age, even though he doesn't eat a lot of sugar?

3 moms found this helpful

What can I do next?

  • Add your own comment
  • Ask your own question
  • Join the Mamapedia community
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.G.

answers from Rockford on

... I make a game out of it with my son. He's only sixteen months old and we "race" to see who can brush their teeth the best. ( he usually wins ) If you make it fun for them, and let him brush his own teeth... introduce him to the whole "big boy" routine... let him do it on his own so he can feel accomplished when he's done. Granted, he won't do a wonderful job, but something is better than nothing, and no you don't need to start worrying about cavities until about three or so...

Edit My Answer
1 mom found this helpful
Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

P.M.

answers from Chicago on

I usually let my son chew on the brush for a little while with the toothpaste, but after I say that it's time to "tickle" his teeth, and he is more than happy to spend some time with mom getting "tickled". Good luck!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.S.

answers from Chicago on

I would try using an electric toothbrush. They have Elmo ones. My 21 month old loves it. Target has them.

More Answers

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

C.C.

answers from Chicago on

My daughter immediately sucks the toothpaste off the brush too. We let her do this and then we brush her teeth. We have a couple different approaches. First, we saw a dentist and use him as reason she has to brush. Dr. Kevin said we had to get that toast out of your teeth... The other approach is we try and find all the food she has eaten since the last time she brushed. Look - there's some chicken up there and so on. Recently, my husband came up with a new approach. There is a yellow dot on her toothbrush. When she pushes it, he starts the engine. She giggles when he does this. Get creative. If it's a fun game, toddlers will usually play along. good luck

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

J.C.

answers from Chicago on

You don't really need to worry about cavities, but it's still a good idea to get him accustomed to having his teeth brushed. The brushing is more important than the toothpaste, so try using just warm water. Also, what we do with our 24-month-old is we brush her teeth first, and then give her the brush to "finish up." By then, the toothpaste is used up anyway so there's nothing left for her to eat off the brush. :)

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

E.L.

answers from Chicago on

First, I agree with a comment made by someone earlier - the toothpaste is only for taste. It doesn't help the cleaning, so I would just skip using it (obviously more difficult now that your son is familiar with it!). Water should be fine.

Next, one thing that worked well for my son was counting. He loves to count. So I'd give him the toothbrush to do it himself while I counted to 10. Then I'd get my turn to brush his teeth while counting to 10 (more slowly for my turn!). As he got older, we changed it to 20. So now he's 3 years old, and we count from 1-10 for the top and 11-20 for the bottom. It seems to work well because it's like a game and he knows there's an endpoint. And I don't let him off the hook until "20" (you might have to say "open your mouth again" a lot!). Also, I wait about 2-3 seconds between numbers - that way I'm able to accomplish 1.5-2 minutes of brushing time!

I noticed you also have a 4 month old. I would start earlier with her - I think part of why my son never minded the tooth brushing so much is because we started when he first started getting teeth. It's just part of the routine. (And we didn't add toothpaste until this past year so he didn't know what he was missing!).

One other thing - you can try other toothbrush gimmicks - we have one that you push the bottom and it makes the toothbrush flash red lights for 1 minute (so it's another way to make it fun AND make sure you brush long enough)...I forget what it's called but they have them at CVS, I think. Another one like that is called "Tooth Tunes", by Oral B. It's ridiculously expensive ($10 for single, non-rechargable brush that has no replacement head). But it's fun - it plays a song for 2 minutes, but you can only hear it when you push onto the teeth to brush them. Ours plays "We Will Rock You"!

One other suggestion, going along with the toothbrush gimmicks (and this may get easier as he gets a bit older) is using the tool/trick of offering a choice. This works for MANY things with toddlers. Instead of saying to my son "Let's go brush your teeth," which offers him the opportunity to say "no", I say something like, "Do you want to brush your teeth today with the light-up toothbrush or the musical toothbrush?" ... This way his answer has to be to pick one. You can also do it in this way: "Do you want to get dressed first or brush your teeth first?"... They feel in-control because they've chosen what to do. I love this trick!

Sorry to be so long-winded! Hope this helps.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.H.

answers from Chicago on

Hi there - my 15 month-old was doing the same thing with brushing his teeth. But I started to be firm that I had to brush his teeth first, then he could do it. The first couple of days he got frustrated about that and threw a mini-fit, but I kept it consistent, and now he lets me brush his teeth first then gets to brush/suck on his toothbrush as long as he wants to. When he asks for seconds, I just put water on his toothbrush, not more toothpaste. One note - when I started brushing his teeth for him, I just started out doing it a few seconds, then as he got used to the routine, was able to extend it longer so that I can brush his teeth more thoroughly. Now I can brush his molars too.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

J.J.

answers from Chicago on

We do a few things with our 22 month old...it varies day to day which approach we take.

1. Let him brush his own teeth. (I often brush my teeth at the same time showing him exactly what to do. Daddy does the same. He likes mimicking us.)

2. Sing Twinkle Twinkle or another favorite while you and he brush his teeth together.

3. Brush his teeth together while counting to 10 6 times: front upper, front lower, upper top x 2, upper lower x 2. He learns to count and knows there is an end in site.

4. When he's in a completely combative mode, we brush for him with force but without hurting him of course. (He hates this way and usually complies with the above choices so avoid being restrained for the brushing.)

Likewise, we use the Earth's Best Toddler Toothpaste since Fluoride is really bad for him at this age. The Earth's Best brand also comes with a finger brush, that we have been using since he was a baby. Maybe trying this would help. It's very soft.

Good luck!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

T.S.

answers from Peoria on

I have a two year old son who would never open his mouth for me either. Now when it comes time to brush I ask him what animals are in his mouth and we count them or make animal noises while we brush. When we do his front teeth I ask him to "Grr" like a tiger. It has made my job much easier. And of course, when I'm finished he gets to brush for a bit. I've also heard that it helps if you let him bruh yours while you brush his, but I haven't tried that one. Hope that helps!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

G.H.

answers from Chicago on

try brushing with baking soda..I don't think he'll like the taste of that

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

W.S.

answers from Chicago on

hi E.,

Just wanted to share what we do with our 4 yr old. Tooth brushing time has been Daddy's territory at our house since our daughter would not let me anywhere near her mouth with the toothbrush. She also just ate the toothpaste like candy and just wanted to 'play in the sink'.

I honestly am not sure how he does it, except I can tell you that my husband has really beautiful teeth - (mine are not so straight and nice). He likes to open his mouth and show her his teeth and talk about how he doesn't have cavities, shows her how he brushes his teech etc., and she thinks this is really funny.

(plus it gives me 10 minutes of couch time before I tuck her in at night). ;-)

Anyway they have a lot of fun in the bathroom during toothbrushing time. I think the novelty of that being daddy-time with her also gets her more interested.

cheers,

W.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

E.M.

answers from Chicago on

stay with the routine and do your best to work with him. You never want to make anything a bad experience, so continue encouraging him to brush. children like to make things out of fun, so become creative and sing and make this a fun experience for him even if it means putting more toothpaste on the brush.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.K.

answers from Chicago on

hiu. trying letting him do it first and them it's mommy's turn to brush him..and do the same for you..let him brush your teeth..

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

J.B.

answers from Chicago on

I always made a game out of making sounds while I brushed their teeth. I would say "say eeeeeee!" and we would both say "eeeeee!" while I brushed the front teeth. Then I would say "now let's say ahhhhh" and we would both say "ahhhh" while I brushed the molars. This got their mouth in the right positions, and they never fought me. I also just used water with no toothpaste at that age, but they can get cavities!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

R.B.

answers from Chicago on

As a hygienist, I would say that you are doing the right thing. Be consistent and brush daily. Eventually you will be able to brush as well as you would like. It is more important that the process be fun at this age. If you are concerned about the toothpaste, just use a wet toothbrush with no paste. If it doesn't have any fluoride it is just there to taste good anyway. I wouldn't obsess about cavities at this point, but be sure to keep an eye out for any suspicious areas. All in good time.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.G.

answers from Chicago on

My little guy loves toothpaste, too. (Though our pediatric dentist said you don't actually need the paste at this age.) A few things that have worked...seeing how "loud" you can do it - getting him or you to really brush, brush so you know the teeth are getting scrubbed. Or I have two toothbrushes and do one side while he does the other. We got a little tiny hourglass timer that he likes to turn over and watch (supposed to be how long he brushes but mostly it's a good distraction for me to brush for him.) If you let him do the rinse and spit with a little cup of water - as long as he lets you brush - the spitting is often even more fun for mine than the brushing.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

E.B.

answers from Chicago on

I'm having a lot of trouble getting my son to cooperate during tooth-brushing time, too. My hygienist said that we should make a game of it and really play-up how fun teeth are. Use a hand mirror, open our mouths, look at and count our teeth, read books about teeth, make up a tooth-brushing song, etc. My son will barely sit still for anything, so I don't know how I'm going to captivate him by his own smile, but I guess it's worth a try. I do think that we need to worry about cavities at any age, so now is a very important time to get the tooth-brushing habit down. I've also considered buying one of those little brushes that fits on your finger so that I can get in and reach the back teeth. This is a struggle! I can sympathize - good luck to you!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

S.H.

answers from Chicago on

I have two ideas: one pretend you are chasing down an animal that is getting another one. Like a lion chasing the zebra. Get really animated and act like you are saving the zebra. At the end you sigh and say you saved the day, etc. If that doesn't work I think you need to assert your authority and ask if they want to do it the easy way (opening up nicely) or the hard way, (you doing it one way or another). After one day of this, they will almost always choose the easy way.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.K.

answers from Chicago on

We call it quality control, and so far they both let mommy, daddy or grandma brush their teeth after they do

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.K.

answers from Chicago on

I noticed a few Moms mentioning the use of toothpaste. I was recently told by both our Pediatrician and our Pediatric Dentist that the fluoride in the toothpaste is poisonous to our children this young. I was instructed not to use it until the kids were able to spit and control themselves from swallowing it (Ped. DDS suggested age 7!) The Ped DDS said you can use the fake "Toddler" toothpaste, but I simply use water.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

A.E.

answers from Chicago on

My mother has been in the dental field for over 25 years. When I had my son, I was concerned about the same thing. Letting the kids just suck on the tooth brush is great. not only do they chew and naw on it but it helps with their teething. Their gums are sore anyway and this soothes them a bit. Just by kids toothpaste that has cavity protection, something that tastes pretty good, and let him suck on it a few times a day.
Even though you may not give him alot of sugar to eat, you may be surprised to see how much food and juices contains sugars. Just some tips that I got, is never lay child down with a bottle or cup, whether it has milk in it or juice. Milk can cause lots of cavities as well. My friend is going through that with he daughter right now. She has always let her daughter drink a cup when she laid her down for naps and bedtime. Now her daughter has 3 cavities and is terrified of the dentist so dentist can't even fix them.
The other trick we tried is we called it "tickling the teeth" My son really got a kick out of that. He thought I was so funny. Just make a game out of it.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

V.E.

answers from Chicago on

we call it ticking your teeth and my sister in law sings eieio and brushes them during. i also tok my 3 year old to the dentist yesterday and she suggested bringing the next one earlier. if you took him, would he listen to the dentist?

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.H.

answers from Chicago on

we used our finger on the surfaces of our kids teeth at tender times, and i didn't use toothpaste either, not until we got the brushing down

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

B.H.

answers from Springfield on

My son is 23 months old and he does the same thing, we asked his pediatrician and he told me just to continue with him getting use to the tooth brush but also wipe his teeth off with a wash cloth. He doesn't always like it but he is getting better at letting us. Every couple days he will let me brush them instead of just wipping them with wash cloth.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

R.H.

answers from Chicago on

E.,
Please let me know if you get any helpful advice. I am having the same problem with my 20 month old. He only wants to eat the toothpaste and will throw his toothbrush when I try to get him to brush. I haven't figured out how to work this site yet, not sure if I can access the responses you got. Thanks & good luck!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

L.M.

answers from Chicago on

I had the same exact problem with both of my children. I could go through three applications of toothpaste before even getting to brush because they liked the flavor. I tried the elctric toothbrushes and everything else. What finally worked is when I went to the dentist I asked for a picture of someone who had gum disease....really rotten looking teeth. Well, it was pretty disgusting, but I took it home and explained why brusing and flossing are important, etc and showed them the picture and we came up with a name for the picture, called, "Mr. Rotten-Teeth" and that did it. Now, if it's late or if I forget to change their sippies from milk to water for bed, they are sure to remind me and always brush. Good luck!
L.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

J.L.

answers from Bloomington on

I have used a Dora battery operated tooth brush for my 4 year old grand-daughter who has been getting her teeth brushed since she got teeth.
I also used to use brush my teeth and show her. I still go over hers after she "Did it herself"
I would find a character he likes and maybe that would help him want to brush his teeth.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.A.

answers from Chicago on

Hi E.,

I recently took my 4 year old and 3 year old to the dentist. My 4 year old had two cavities! She did not have a lot of sugar either, and brushed herself twice a day since she was two. The dentist said that we should be brushing her teeth twice a day and only letting her "practice" after. If I had to do it again, I'd have taken them to the dentist instead of waiting. I really thought taking a two year old was too ambitious, but I regret not going sooner. Parenting mistake, 3,432!

The point is that you should we bruhing your guys teeth and let him "practice" when he is ready.

SAHM of three. - M.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.R.

answers from Chicago on

Hi, just off the top of my head: have you tired making up silly little songs while brushing? Sometimes it helps to make some things a game. How about getting rid of the toothpaste and just focusing on the actions? Do you have a doll, stuffed animal, etc. that you could make a cardboard brush for and say we are going to teach teddy bear about keeping his teeth clean and shiny? Any actions he makes towards doing the required brushing motions should receive a little praise - keep it moderate. Good luck and I am sure other people will have good ideas.
K.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

D.D.

answers from Springfield on

I remember my daughter doing that as well. I actually let her brush my teeth once and then I was able to take my turn brushing hers for maybe 2-3 seconds. After that, the rule was mommy got to brush first then she could do it. She still preferred to suck on her tooth brush but eventually got over it. She was almost 4 before she became a really efficient brusher!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.W.

answers from Chicago on

My son (now 3 y.o.)would always fight brushing his teeth. Especially the molars because he has a very sensitive gag reflex. I let him pick out an electric toothbrush at the store that had a fun character on it. Then we used the electric toothbrush to "tickle" his teeth. He now does much better with brushing and the dentist said his teeth look very good.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

K.W.

answers from Chicago on

Let him brush your teeth while you brush his teeth. This worked for my kids. Good luck!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

T.M.

answers from Chicago on

you could try using a wet washcloth with or without toothpaste on your finger during bath time to tell him you are washing his teeth. this worked for a friend until her 2 yr. old got the hang of the toothbrush.

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

M.P.

answers from Bloomington on

Hi E.,

My daughter loves the Doodlebops, but you could do this with any character your son likes. I pretend to brush all of the Doodlebops' teeth while my daughter brushes hers. Then when they're all done, it's my turn to brush her teeth. Also, since this is part of the bedtime routine & the next thing is always reading books, we've established a rule that if she cooperates (which means stands still & opens her mouth during my turn), then she gets to read 3 books before bed, but if not, then she only gets to read 2. We've also tried recently making a race out of it (because she likes to go really slow). We timed ourselves (it took 7 minutes) & now try to beat this time. Good luck!

Smallavatar-fefd015f3e6a23a79637b7ec8e9ddaa6

P.P.

answers from Chicago on

I have tried the "tickle tooth" technique where you say you are going to tickle their teeth and they usually open their mouths and you can do a quick brush. I have also distracted them with a toy or floss container. I remember what they have eaten for breakfast or dinner and say "oh, my! there are some peas in your teeth! Let me get them out!" and that works sometimes too.

If you son's teeth are "tight", I would start flossing them. My 4 year old had cavities between her molars because they are tight and we weren't flossing. You can buy those special flossers that make it easy.

Good luck! ;)

Next question: Difficulty Cleaning/Brushing 18 Months Old Teeth