Toothbrushing: A New Form of Exercise

Author: Dr. Sarah Mischo, DMD

If you have a young child at home, or even if you are beyond that stage of parenting, you know that brushing a child’s teeth can be a battle! I have a 16-month-old at home, and there are nights I feel like I completed a full workout just to get the toothbrush in his mouth for a few seconds. At this stage, toddlers are learning new things constantly and wanting to complete tasks independently, but young children often lack the hand coordination and patience to effectively brush their teeth.

Over the last few weeks, however, we’ve been following some suggestions from pediatric speech-language pathologist Stephanie (@learntotalkwithme on instagram), and these have really helped our little one do better when it’s time to brush. He’s definitely not getting to a full two minutes, but at this age you take whatever you can get!

According to Stephanie, many children hate toothbrushing because it is something that is happening TO them, where they have very little control. This event can feel scary to them even though we know it’s a safe and important habit to form. Here are her suggestions to make toothbrushing a bit easier for your young child.

Tip 1: Hand over the toothbrush! Let the child explore and brush independently at first, then tell the child “alright, it’s my turn to make them extra clean!”

Tip 2: Have multiple toothbrushes! The child can hold one, and you can hold one and you can practice switching who is brushing. Make sure they are brushing in front of a mirror so they can watch themselves as they brush. Even watching the adult brush his or her teeth can set a great example for the child.

Tip 3: Sing a song or count while brushing! Having a familiar or favorite song during brushing time gives the child a sense of when the toothbrushing will be over. This may help them feel calmer or more in control.

These three tips have really made toothbrushing easier in our household. Ultimately we want the child to feel part of the process as much as possible. I hope these tips help make brushing much easier for all those families out there that have independent toddlers!