The Ultimate Guide to Helping Your Reluctant Toddler Brush His Teeth

toothbrush toddler brush teeth


If your toddler is reluctant to brush his teeth, you are going to need these tips! Find out how we conquered toothbrushing fears in our house!

helping your reluctant toddler brush his teeth pinterest image

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Camden was a late teether, sort of. He started teething at 4 months, but didn’t actually cut his first tooth until he was almost a year old.

When we first started brushing his teeth, he didn’t mind it at all. He let us do it with no problem; he thought the toothbrush was fun.

And then…

And then we had to brush his teeth while he was cutting some new teeth and his gums were swollen and sore. After that day, brushing his teeth became a wild alligator fight. I’m pretty sure I’m now qualified to wrestle an octopus.

I knew we couldn’t let him see brushing his teeth as a horrible thing this early on; we’d only be setting ourselves up for more stress and problems later.

If your toddler is a reluctant tooth-brusher, here are some tips to help your toddler brush her teeth.

toothbrush toddler brush teeth

Make Brushing Teeth a Routine

When we tell Camden it’s time to brush his teeth, he starts the routine himself, because he knows it so well. He runs and gets his step stool and tries to carry it to the bathroom. He knows we brush teeth in the morning and at night. And if we don’t do it soon enough, he is there telling us we didn’t. Camden is extremely routine-oriented (as are most toddlers) so even when he didn’t like brushing his teeth, he liked the routine. 

He also knows that he brushes his teeth first and then we brush his toddler teeth. I want him to learn to brush on his own, but I also know that it will be a few years before he’s really capable of correctly and completely brushing on his own. 

brush your teeth by raffi album

Make it Fun

Brushing our toddler’s teeth became a battle where we had to hold his arms down and brush them. It was miserable. And while I knew it was necessary, I knew I wanted him to see brushing your teeth as something enjoyable. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to encourage healthy brushing habits.

So I found a tooth-brushing song. Have y’all heard of Raffi? I used to love him as a kid, and his song Baby Beluga was Camden’s calming song when he was a little babe. He has a song called Brush Your Teeth by Raffi, and it’s upbeat and fun. We added it to our routine and Camden lives for it! He sets up his stool, climbs up, gets his toothbrush, makes sure we get ours too, and then demands his song. It’s adorable and wonderful! We have an Amazon Echo in our bathroom, so it’s easy to ask for the song on demand! 

There is also an Elmo song about brushing your teeth – I just didn’t find it as engaging as Raffi, but you might love it! 

dr brown toddler tooth brush for brushing teeth

I also recommend a fun toothbrush and rinse cup! Camden has this Dr. Brown’s toothbrush, and I love it because it has wings to keep the brush head from ever touching any germy surface. It’s not a character brush, but he thinks it’s fun! I also want him to have a fun rinse cup – probably Paw Patrol or PJ Masks or tractors – but I think I’m waiting for Christmas; it’ll be a fun stocking stuffer! Right now, I just use a little dressing storage cup from the kitchen. 



Give Him Something to Look Forward To

Toddlers are just getting into the sticker phase. At 18 months, Camden loves stickers, even though he mostly loves sticking them on mama and daddy! So I got some stickers with some of his favorite things on them – trains, Paw Patrol, puppies, kitties, and turtles – and I keep them in my makeup organizer on the counter where he can see them. When he gets his toothbrush out, he always notices them and gets excited. And we tell him, “Don’t forget – you get a sticker after we brush your teeth.”

It has made brushing those little toddler teeth so much easier. He is extremely motivated by the sticker, and I’m okay with that for now. At 18 months (even at 2 or 3 years), a little external motivation is perfectly fine if it helps him see that brushing his teeth is not torture. 

brushing teeth with toddler

Brush Your Teeth with Your Toddler

At first, we tried to just brush Camden’s teeth, because we do our own routines before or after he is asleep. But when he started freaking out about it, Andrew did it with him to show him that it was fun and okay. And after that, he started asking us to do it with him every time. It’s a sensible thing to do, because when we brush our teeth with him, it lets him see that a) a toothbrush is not a device of torture and b) we all do it. Toddlers are much more likely to do something when they see the adults doing it too; it makes more sense to them. It’s hard to reason to a young toddler with words, but you can reason with actions! 

boy with toothbrush brushing his toddler teeth

The End Result – Helping Our Toddler Brush His Teeth

Currently, he no longer screams about brushing his teeth. He does get distracted trying to grab everything on the sink, but learning to correctly brush his own teeth will come in time. The important part is that he lets us brush his teeth without screaming and flailing all over.

Remember: a toddler doesn’t understand why brushing his teeth is important, and you can’t really use words to reason with him when he is that little. So, just like teaching through play, you have to make it fun. Especially if your toddler is reluctant, like our little monkey.


Do you have any great tips that worked for your toddler? Share them in the comments! 

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  1. Jordan | Mindful Mama Health

    I love the idea of the Raffi song! My toddler will sometimes brush fine and other days screams and runs away. I try to brush mine with her too as encouragement as well. Great tips!

  2. Margaret

    We love the Raffi song (some Canadian music love here)! It’s a catchy tune and our son always liked it when we started singing it before we brushed his teeth. He’s trying to do the brushing on his own and he’s fairly good at it, but he doesn’t get the spitting part. Our dentist recommended we use toothpaste that doesn’t have flouride so that if he does swallow it it’s not harmful. It’s just a case of making it a routine and then trying to do the spitting every once in a while. Until he gets it!

  3. Lorena |

    Brushing our teeth together with our toddler has worked for us. He imitates everything we do, so us brushing with him has encouraged him to enjoy brushing his teeth.

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