It can be incredibly frustrating for a parent to be told by the dentist to brush their kids’ teeth for two minutes twice a day and then face the reality of a non-cooperative child at home. We understand – really, truly we do! We want to help you establish a healthy routine for your children, so let’s brainstorm some troubleshooting tactics for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers!

Babies really like to stick things in their mouth, as long as they’re the ones in control, so let them play with the toothbrush first. After a minute, gently guide the toothbrush around their mouth. If that is not working, try laying your baby on your lap with their head at your knees, looking up at you. In this position, you can talk and tickle your way around baby’s mouth. When all else fails, you may want a support person to gently hold baby still during the brushing.

Toddlers love to mimic, so you may actually be able to get a brush in their mouth just by saying “Ah!” Create silly variations of this, like pretending to be an opera singer or hollering like a gorilla. Place your toddler in front of a mirror so they can see into their own mouth while brushing. Little ones may find this new view mesmerizing! The privilege of standing on the toilet or sitting on the counter might make brushing extra special, as long as you stand protectively near to them. A quick way to build enthusiasm for brushing is to show your toddler videos of other kids brushing, like on or .

Being silly is always a smart tactic with stubborn preschoolers. With a yelp, say “There are cavity monsters in your mouth and we need to brush them away!” Let your child pick their own toothbrush at the store to give them a sense of ownership. If it has a cartoon character on it, involve that character in the cleaning, either by imitating their voice or by creating a cleaning game involving the character. Challenge your child to find all their molars in the back of the mouth. To get them to brush the full two minutes, use a fun timer. Many dentists have little hour-glass style timers for kids or you can let them play with your kitchen timer and see if they can keep brushing as long as the timer is going! Preschoolers like to learn the “whys” of the world, so tell them why they are brushing. You can even point out their leftover dinner between their teeth for extra “yuck” factor. Make morning cartoons or bedtime stories a treat after brushing (it’s not a bribe, its motivation!)

There is not one method or gimmick that will work every time for your child. Chances are you’ll be changing tactics every week! Don’t let it frustrate you. You are doing a good job and your children’s teeth will show it!

Special thanks to our blog writer Susan Akers!