Help! My Kids Won’t Let Me Brush Their Teeth!

Help! My Kids Won’t Let Me Brush Their Teeth!

There are just a few questions I get asked as a kids’ dentist in Hillsdale by patients that just make me cringe.  Not that their question offends in any way, but I feel like I just can’t give a good answer.

An all too familiar scenario: A parent brings in their young child, who is usually less than 4 years old, and say, “They won’t let me brush their teeth. What can I do?”

Of course, I do have some suggestion I can offer to parents, such as make it a game, brush together, be a good role model, etc. However, despite my hopefully helpful advice, all I can really think about is my own experience with brushing my children’s teeth.  While they are now older, I vividly remember their strong objections to teeth brushing/flossing when they were toddlers.

Truthfully, what worked for me was to lay my daughters down, get on all fours and hold them down while I brushed and flossed their teeth. Of course, this was met with the usual crying that accompanies defiance.  I was okay with that. (The louder they cried the more her mouth would open, and I could really get a good scrubbing done!)  Yes – I am well aware this would not win me the parent of the year award but for me it worked.  My patience level to clean my daughter’s teeth went beyond trying to reason with her.

In reality, my “mom” brain wants to say – where is your backbone?  There are many things in life my kids won’t want to do.  But my “business /dentist brain” wants to help them find ways that work for them.

Alas, here is some advice from so called “parenting experts”….

  • Make brushing teeth part of a child’s morning and bedtime routine. Don’t skip brushings as that makes it seem optional.
  • Consider skipping toothpaste.It is fine for the young ones, and since most kids don’t like toothpaste, you might experiment to see if that makes them more open to brushing.
  • Sing! This is the way we brush our teeth, after we eat our dinner” or “The toothbrush in the mouth goes round and round” can be very helpful because singing increases the fun level and reinforces the routine.
  • If they resists, take turns. Toddlers are beginning to understand the concept of “my turn!” so you can say, “Baby’s turn to brush Mommy!” and then “Now it’s dolly’s turn!” and “Now it’s Mommy’s turn to brush Baby!”
  • Play “copycat.” Since most kids this age enjoy learning by copying us, but want to “do it themselves,” brush together looking into the mirror. Have them copy you in the mirror as you brush. While a child probably won’t do a thorough job, it is a good start and teaches them how to brush.
  • Offering choices helps kids cooperate. To “finish up” her teeth, does she want her favorite stuffed animal or doll to brush, or a puppet? Hold the doll or puppet and let them “finish up” her mouth. Awkward, but it gets the job done.

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