Help! My Tot Will Not Let Me Brush Her Teeth!

Help! My Tot Will Not Let Me Brush Her Teeth!

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

Does your toddler like or dislike brushing teeth?

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.


Somewhere around eighteen to twenty months, my children get into this sudden habit of clenching their mouths shut at the mere sight of a tooth brush. With my first I blamed myself, of course, as a new mama I was probably doing something wrong. With my second, I blamed teething, everything is teething’s fault:  no sleep, no appetite, slimy diapers…best answer: teething.  With my third, I finally figured it out.  I now know for a fact that it’s not possibly just a developmental stage, or my fault, or teething, but rather  a very secret effort on the part of the local dentistry association in cahoots with non-other than the Tooth fairy.

You see, on a night not too long ago when I was trying oh so desperately to rack up a few hours of sleep,   my Bella  decided to wake up for no apparent reason. Upon further investigation, I realized it was because she had received a special visit from the tooth fairy.  That clever fairy had flown in and materialized an ipad from a handful of glitter and showed my wide eyed tot a fun little video with clear instructions on how to best grow cavities. This is the conspiracy you see to guarantee new clients for the local dentists.  That makes perfect sense right?

Determined to sabotage the tooth fairy conspiracy I came up with a five pronged defense strategy:

Tooth brush shopping: I took Bella to the store and showed her all sorts of toothbrushes that were age appropriate. I let her choose two toothbrushes to bring home. She placed the toothbrushes on the cashier belt and even handled the coins to pay for it herself.

Go on a teeth brushing tour:  Learned this from a fellow conspiracy breaker! We walked around the house looking for the silliest places to brush teeth, looking out the window, on top of the slide, in the Tupperware drawer, under the covers.  Any place to make toothbrushing a fun, non-threating activity. At each location we brushed teeth for a second or too, or we pretented to brushed some other object just to have fun and laugh.

Watch a special demonstration from a reformed clencher turned into teethbrushing enthusiast :
Since my four year old loves brushing teeth he put on a show for Bella recently, he sang songs, danced, and showed her all the different teeth he has. She was really eager to imitate him after that!

Sing silly songs when brushing: We sing lots of silly songs when we brush teeth. One of Bella’s favorites is the Brother John song which we changed up a bit:

Brushing, brusing. Brushing, brushing.

Scrub, scrub, scrub. Scrub. Scrub, scrub.

Your teeth are getting clean, your teeth are getting clean

Now you’re done! Now you’re done!

Set a time limit: After a week of consistent work on making toothbrushing fun, positive and non threatening we have reached a peace agreement where I explain to Bella that we will be brushing for one song as the song above or for the count of five.  I count to five at a slow pace, one number for each corner of her mouth, and five being for the middle teeth. After that, Bella gets a turn to brush her own teeth.

So, toddlers often fuss over teeth brushing, silly conspiracy theories  aside, here are some real reasons:

  • It is often the case that toddlers are assuming autonomy over their own bodies and closing their mouth is something they have mastered.
  • Toddlers may dislike the feeling or taste of the toothpaste or brush.
  • Growing molars are causing pain.
  • Toddlers are often too tired because of the time of day (preceding bed or nap time).

Keeping things positive, loading up on patience, being consistent and adjusting the routine are great ways to build healthy habits for your toddlers teeth.

So do tell, has the conspiracy reached your house yet? How are you handling it?



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Holistic Care of your Toddler’s Teeth — Erica at ChildOrganics tells a tale of her children’s teeth issues and how she uses homeopathy and good nutrition to keep cavities at bay.
  • Bath Time Bliss : Fuss-Free Bath Time for Toddlers — Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares how she has made bath time completely fuss free for both her and her toddler.
  • Homemade Natural ToothpasteCity Kids Homeschooling hosts a guest post on a homemade natural toothpaste recipe that kids will love!
  • Bathing Strike StrategiesCrunchy Con Mommy offers her best tips for keeping your little ones clean when they refuse to bathe.
  • Bodily Autonomy and Personal Hygeine — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses the importance of supporting a child’s bodily autonomy in the prevention of abuse.
  • A Tub Full of Kiddos! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment has kiddos who love the water, so bathtime is a favorite evening activity!
  • The Trials of Tidying My Toddler — Adrienne at Mommying My Way shares the difficulties she has with getting her on-the-go son to be still enough to get clean.
  • Wiped Clean — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen shares her recipe for homemade diaper wipe solution to clean those sweet little cloth diapered bottoms in her home!
  • Snug in a Towel: Embracing Personal Grooming — Personal care is time consuming,especially with more than one child; but the mama at Our Muddy Boots is learning to embrace this fleeting and needful time.
  • EC: All or Nothing? — Elimination Communication. Even the title sounds complicated and time consuming. It doesn’t have to, if you adapt it to meet your family’s needs, says Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Routine Battles — In a guest post at Anktangle, Jorje of Momma Jorje outlines a simple incentive to help inspire your little one to follow a routine.
  • Redefining Beauty For My Daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger relays her struggle to define her own femininity and how her preschooler unexpectedly taught her a lesson in true beauty.
  • Rub-A-Dub-Dub, Three Girls In The Tub — Chrystal at Happy Mothering shares how she turns bath time into a few minutes of peace and quiet.
  • Montessori-Inspired Activities for Care of Self — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has a roundup of Montessori-inspired activities for care of self and ideas for home environments that encourage independence.
  • 10 Gentle Tips for Little Ones Who Hate the Bath — Kim at life-is-learning gives 10 tips to get your little one into the bath and maybe even enjoying it.
  • The Boy With The Long Hair — Liam at In The Now discusses his son’s grooming choices.
  • Personal Care in a Montessori Home — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings shares a summary of the ways she has organized her family’s home to make for easy, Montessori-inspired toddler personal care.
  • Styling Kids — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is letting her kids decide what to look like.
  • Clean Kids: Laundry and Bath Tips — Kimberly at Homeschooling in Nova Scotia shares tips on how to get your children helping with laundry plus recipes for laundry and liquid soap.
  • How to Clean Your Children Naturally: A Tutorial — Erika at Cinco de Mommy shows you how to clean your children.
  • Cleaniliness is next to… dirt — The lapse-prone eco-mom (Kenna at Million Tiny Things) sometimes forgets to bathe the kids. Except in the mud pit.


Image: Michal Marcol /

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

29 Responses to Help! My Tot Will Not Let Me Brush Her Teeth!

  1. That must be the explanation — it’s the only thing that makes sense! 🙂

    We’ve been doing the compromise thing, too, where I get to brush for some of the time and he does the rest. We used to trade off mornings & nights (kids get to brush alone in the mornings, and a parent does it at night), which also works, but he wants more control now at 4.

    Going toothbrush shopping has also been a big hit here, and I love your song — going to adopt that one! 🙂

  2. […] Help! My Tot will not let me brush her teeth! — Mudpiemama shares five positive ways to help toddlers brush teeth and sabotage the tooth fairy’s secret conspiracy. […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

  3. […] Help! My Tot will not let me brush her teeth! — Mudpiemama shares five positive ways to help toddlers brush teeth and sabotage the tooth fairy’s secret conspiracy. […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

  4. Awesome suggestion to find silly places to brush in! I also saw a suggestion to have a ticket to get on the tooth brushing train (or space ship, etc.). You could brush all over the house while riding on the train!

  5. Abbey always liked brushing. . . we started it in the bathtub when she was really young – like, 6 or 9 months. I’d “tickle” her teeth, and she’d giggle.

    Now, she’s a pretty fastidious tooth brusher. She brushes for a good period of time, and I only have to double check her molars for food residue.

    I also LOVE the Brush Your Teeth song by Raffi. I only actually remember the ch ch chhh part of it, but Abbey loved to sing that between 18 and 24 months 😉

  6. Oh we like that song too! See this is why I say it`s a conspiracy because up until 18 months or so teeth brushing was a breeze here… 🙂 thankfully its back to no fuss and all play!!

  7. Great post! What good ideas you have. I might have to borrow some of those.I love your writing style too. Very amusing. 🙂

  8. It must just be a milestone, like you said, going along with their desire for bodily autonomy in other things. Before that age, they are used to having you handle them to dress and change them, but now all of a sudden they want to do everything themselves — even though they can’t! That’s how my son just spent the last six months mostly naked. It was too big of a battle to try to get him to get dressed, and it made it easier for him to take himself to the potty instead of relying on my help, which of course he didn’t want. Now he can pull his own pants up and down and that battle is (mostly) over — as long as he is in charge, he doesn’t mind much. (I say this, but right now he is wearing no pants. Ah well.)

    So, with older kids, you can testify that it gets better? I’m sure hoping, because toothbrushing is rough here too!

  9. We can get our toddler to brush pretty easily, but I know he doesn’t do a great job. So far the only way we can brush his teeth for him since he started doing it himself is for one of us to restrain him while the other brushes his teeth. We all hate it and don’t do it often. Any ideas on getting preschoolers to brush more effectively?

  10. Crunchy Con Mommy – I would try reading some books on teeth brushing with stories on how important it is to get every tooth brushed. I would also take the preschooler to the dentist for a quick and friendly check up, sometimes hearing from the hygienist or dentist how important it is to let mom and dad help with the brushing goes a long way. I understand the frustration and the steps you have taken to keep the teeth clean but would encourage you to talk to your preschooler and explain something like “holding you to brush isn`t working, we know you don´t like it, we don´t want to hurt you, but your teeth need to get really clean. lets try to find a way to help each other.” It might take several times trying to have this conversation if your preschooler is really mad/upset/afraid. Do welcome his suggestions and see if they will work. If you can strike a compromise, mom brushes in the evenings, for the count of 5 or for one silly song but he does it in the mornings alone…. Patience and keep trying to transform it into a positive experience. good luck!

  11. Sheila, yes it can get better. My 5 and 4 yr olds brush teeth wonderfully, unprompted and with a timer so its enough to know the teeth are getting really clean. we do dentist visists 2x yearly and they have been great.
    Try to keep things fun and positive but don´t be afraid to set a limit. Even if your child gets upset or mad, it´s ok to have those feelings, you can be there to empathize and care, but if he needs teeth brushed or pants on to go somewhere, stick to your limits!

  12. I love the tooth fairy antagonist! These are some great ideas to get independent toddlers on board with brushing teeth. My daughter’s name is Bella too and she is 22 mos! She only recently has begun to enjoy tooth brushing again. Sometimes she asks for it! Thanks for the wonderful post!

    Jaye Anne

  13. […] Help! My Tot will not let me brush her teeth! — Mudpiemama shares five positive ways to help toddlers brush teeth and sabotage the tooth fairy’s secret conspiracy. […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP ( doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP ( and so is spam.

  14. I also have a very reluctant 3 year old non-brusher and for the last week he has been letting me brush his teeth. All because I let him brush mine first! This has been a mayor break through for us. I just hopes it carries on.

  15. Madeleine – how great that you have found such a positive solution! Teeth brushing can be so tricky at times. thanks for sharing your experience.

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