10 Tips to Teach Your Toddler to Brush Their Teeth (Without Tantrums)

Is it a struggle getting your toddler to brush their teeth? Here are 10 tips for teaching your child to brush their teeth without a tantrum.

As a mom of a 2-year-old who doesn’t want to brush his teeth at times, here are some solutions I’ve found for teaching toddlers to brush their teeth, as well as ways to make brushing fun for them.

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1.) Use a training toothpaste with a good flavor that is safe to swallow.

a toddler looks down at their toothbrush squeezing out the toothpaste onto it, wearing polka dot pajamas

I personally like the Hello brand of kids’ toothpaste. They have a natural apple flavor training toothpaste for babies & toddlers aged 3 months-2 years old. (This is fluoride-free. And it’s safe to swallow, which is important for younger babies and toddlers who can’t yet spit properly.)

They also have a natural watermelon flavor, (also fluoride-free,) for kids of all ages, (which is the one we mainly use for our toddlers.)

If you prefer fluoride in your child’s toothpaste, Hello has this natural strawberry flavor for ages 2+ and like their other kids’ flavors it has no color dye. (Other brands of children’s’ toothpaste often have color added.)

According to the American Dental Association, when using fluoride toothpaste in children younger than 3 years, the amount of toothpaste used should be “no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice.”

2.) Let your toddler watch you brush your own teeth.

an Asian mother and her daughter smile looking in the mirror brushing their teeth together

Toddlers naturally want to copy what Mommy, Daddy, and other adults do.

Letting them watch you clean your teeth teaches them that it’s a normal part of life. And it can make them feel more comfortable with you brushing their teeth. 

I explain to my toddlers that I’m brushing my top and bottom teeth, and the front, back, and sides of my teeth. I show them what I’m doing and they try to imitate me.

3.) Take a turn brushing your toddler’s teeth, and then let them have a turn.

a mom gently brushes her toddler girl's teeth before letting her have a turn

I always brush my 2-year-old’s teeth first for a certain amount of time, and then I let him have a turn.

Your toddler will likely need a lot of practice before they master the skill of cleaning their teeth thoroughly. 

By brushing your toddler’s teeth first, you can make sure they are properly cleaned. And it teaches them how to do it right. 

4.) Teach your toddler to gently brush their tongue too. 

a toddler boy brushes his teeth and tongue

This should be a part of brushing for both toddlers and adults.

As this article shows, there is a lot of bacteria on your tongue, which can also cause bad breath.

5.) Listen to a 2-minute song, use a timer, or count to a certain number until their brushing time is done.

a green alligator timer is shown on the wall next to toddler toothbrushes

You can get a baby/toddler toothbrush with a 2-minute timer so they (and you) know how long to brush. Or there are toddler toothbrushes- like this one- that incorporate songs as a timer. This can make it fun for your toddler too.

Alternatively, you could also use a separate bathroom timer (such as this one that counts down both for brushing teeth and hand washing). Or you can count yourself as they brush. 

Timing brushing in a way your toddler can see or hear shows them it’s not for a long, endless time.

6.) Read a story about brushing your teeth or have your toddler watch a video about cleaning their teeth.

a mom is reading to her toddler son about brushing his teeth

Kids will think about and act out what they read or watch. I’m sure you’ve seen your toddler copy things in this way.

Toddlers who are used to being read stories will likely enjoy a story about brushing their teeth. And if you let your toddler watch TV, they’ll probably like watching videos about things they do in real life.

7.) Reward your toddler for doing a good job with brushing.

This is a cute, free printable color reward chart I designed to reinforce good brushing behavior. 

Your toddler can color a tooth when they show good brushing skills. (For example, you may decide to let them color a tooth when they brush their teeth, when they listen or behave when brushing, (or when you brush or floss their teeth for them.)

After they color a certain amount of teeth (whatever you decide and write on the clean teeth chart,) they earn a reward.

8.) Be consistent and make brushing teeth part of your toddler’s morning and bedtime routines.

a black toddler sits on the sink brushing their teeth in the morning after they wake up

No doubt, teaching your toddler to brush their teeth daily can be a challenge, but if you keep it as a consistent expectation, they will eventually get used to it and accept it.

Don’t give into tantrums by allowing them to skip brushing when they act out, or you’ll reinforce bad behavior, and it’s not good for their dental health.

I understand that tantrums with the terrible twos are not easy. (And let’s face it- sometimes tantrums start early at age 1 or last until 3 or later.)

And I know there are a lot of other things you need to do to get your child to sleep on time each night.

But your toddler has to understand that brushing their teeth is not an option.

Eventually, your toddler will get the point that whether they have an outburst or not, they need to brush their teeth. And they will realize that having a tantrum is not going to change that, which over time will improve their behavior during brushing.

9.) When you brush your toddler’s teeth at night, try to do so before they are overly tired.

a tired toddler boy who is ready to go to sleep

My 2-year-old still occasionally will start crying and (try to) refuse to brush his teeth at night. But I have noticed a pattern that usually if this happens, he is overly tired and just needs to go to bed.

Toddlers are going to be more prone to tears and tantrums when they are sleepy. So brushing their teeth before they are really tired is a proactive way to avoid unnecessary tantrums they may have for this reason.

If you currently brush teeth at the end of your toddler’s bedtime routine, try switching this to the start of your toddler’s bedtime routine. Or you can do this earlier in the evening before bedtime.

Once your toddler is done eating for the day, it’s okay to brush their teeth. If it makes it easier on you and your toddler, it doesn’t have to be immediately before bed. You can always add brushing teeth to their bedtime routine in the future once the tantrums have subsided.

10.) When all else fails, if your toddler is crying and uncooperative, do what the dentists do.

an Asian mom gently tilts her toddler's head back on her to brush their teeth

A pediatric dentist had me gently lay my daughter back when she was younger, even though she was crying, and they simply brushed her teeth.

You see, when a toddler cries, they usually have their mouth open. So you can lay them back on you, gently supporting their head. And then brush their teeth while their mouth is open.

If your toddler’s mouth is not open, you can either wait for them to open it, or gently open their mouth yourself.

It’s very important in this situation to be gentle, calm, and kind, but also to hold your toddler firmly. (This way your toddler doesn’t hurt themselves moving around as you brush.)

A calm demeanor may also help calm your child down, or at least prevent them from getting more upset. (The worse the tantrum, the harder it will be for you to brush their teeth.)

Of course, this is not the ideal way we want to brush our toddlers’ teeth. But you don’t want to let a tantrum be an opportunity for cavities. 

So this can be a last resort to the other tips.

Occasionally, I do have to do this for my 2-year-old if he is tired and fussy. But most of the time, using some of the other tips has been enough to keep him cooperative. 

Those are 10 ways to get your toddler to brush their teeth and prevent tantrums. By being consistent, showing them how you brush yourself, and making it a fun and normal experience, they will get used to oral hygiene as a normal part of their day.

P.S. Don’t forget to download our free printable Clean Teeth Color Reward Chart before you go.

Have a great day and thanks for reading!

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