As your baby grows into a toddler, dental hygiene can become a sticking point for many parents. Teeth brushing may cause tantrums, and limiting sugar intake and restricting things like juice and soda becomes more difficult. While tooth care for toddlers may not always come without a fight, there are some things parents can do to end the tears and resistance, helping to cement a habit that will be an asset for oral health for a lifetime.
Some parents have to resort to holding their child down and brushing teeth by force, but this makes teeth brushing a negative experience. Instead of forcing the issue, try these tactics to get your toddler more excited about brushing:
1. Take turns. Give the brush to your toddler and say, "You brush first! It's your turn because you're getting old enough to brush!" After they have had a turn, take the brush and "finish off", telling your child it is now your turn to brush.
2. Brush with your toddler. Try brushing your own teeth at the same time as your child. You might even allow your toddler to help brush your teeth -- they love to help, and it will model how you want them to act when you in turn brush theirs. Exclaim over how clean your teeth are because they helped, how nice they look and how healthy they appear.
3. Allow your child to choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste. Many toddler toothpastes have characters on them that make the tube more enticing. Your child may not like the toothbrush you pick, but if theirs lights up or features a favorite character, it can help them look forward to brushing. Respect their choice, even if the brush they pick is more expensive -- within reasonable limits, that is.
4. Play dental hygiene games with your child. Toddlers love to engage in imaginative play, and you can buy cheap pretend toothbrushes to help your toddler take care of stuffed animals or dolls by brushing their teeth. This type of play helps to normalize tooth care as part of a daily routine -- everyone brushes their teeth. You could even use a stuffed animal to "hold" the tooth brush so a teddy bear or doll is "brushing" your toddler's teeth, allowing you to get the job done.
5. Sing familiar songs with a "brushing" slant. For example, if your child enjoys a game of "ring around the rosie", consider singing "brush around the teethies" to the same tune. Familiar songs help toddlers to feel calm and bring a positive, fun association to brushing their teeth. A song is also a good tool for brushing because it helps a child visualize the length of the process -- the end of the song means the end of brushing, so they don't feel the need to fight as hard against it because the end is in sight.
6. Explain why brushing is so important. Use words that children can understand and empathize with the aversion to brushing. For example, you can say, "Oh, brushing is sometimes uncomfortable! I bet it tickles and feels strange!" Use these statements as a springboard to explain that a little irritation or tickling now is better than a cavity later. Because children often do not know what cavities are, use words they can understand. Teeth can get hurt, they can get "owies" if they aren't brushed, and then they need to go to the doctor in order to get better.