Children · Growing Pains · health · Motherhood · parenting · toddlers

8 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Brush Their Teeth Without Pinning Them Down

If you’re the mum of a toddler who you’ve never had any trouble with in getting them to brush their teeth I think I’m quite happy to stick my neck on the line and say you are in a very small minority.

It’s recommended that you begin brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as they start to emerge and that an ideal position is with them sat on your knee.

Well, that’s all well and good…if your child actually sits still with their mouth open. I’m not sure I’ve met a toddler who sits still with their mouth open for 2 minutes yet.

I’m quite lucky with Biggest now in that she is quite happy to have her teeth brushed twice a day (as long as she gets to have a go too). But it wasn’t always that way. There was a stage when she was probably around 18 months where she downright refused to open her mouth at all and would get quite upset with me even asking. What’s a gentle parent to do in this situation when everyone around them advises pinning down?

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Following our dentist’s visit earlier this week, I asked mums on my Facebook page for their tips on gentle ways to help a toddler to brush their teeth without pinning them down.

Here are the 8 ways they came up with:

1) Involve them

Sounds obvious! How can they not be involved?! It’s their teeth!

Helen explained how she made teeth-brushing special:

Let them brush yours so you can brush theirs.

Get down to their level so they can see how you brush yours.

Katie said she lets her little boy have a go at brushing his own teeth, which Helen also suggested:

Let them do it no matter how badly they do it and build on what’s good.

Claire had a lovely suggestion to make a family event of brushing:

Family toothbrushing time – all brush together at the same time.

Louise makes sure that she gives equal measures of independence and oral hygiene with one simple rule:

I have a bit of a rule that they can all do their own every morning, BUT mummy or daddy have to help with e bedtime ones as I worry they don’t do the backs enough, we haven’t had much moaning…..yet!

2) Sing songs

Katie also turns teeth-cleaning time into its own little celebration with a song:

We have a version of “the brush on the teeth goes round and round, ” to the tune of the wheels on the bus. Also “this is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth. This is the way we brush our teeth, every single day/night.”
It doesn’t always work, particularly on overtired evenings but, mostly.

And Claire had an extra special reason for including songs as part of her daughter’s brushing routine:

Ah a subject close to my heart. My lovely girl has a condition where the enamel isn’t formed on her back teeth so we have to brush after every meal to stop cavities in the mis-shaped areas. We made up a special toothbrushing song to make sure all areas get covered.

3) Play games


This was a popular suggestion from a few mums and one I have used myself, in the past, particularly the “animal brushing game”, where you pretend to seek out and find all manner of interesting animals in your child’s teeth.

Helen said:

Do funny things like say oooh we need to brush that elephant/lion/kangaroo from your mouth.

And Heidi agreed:

You can chase animals, trains, etc around the mouth with brush.

Another lovely game was suggested by Micki. This one is for outside of toothbrushing time, but one which gently encourages a good relationship with teeth brushing and is sure to be a hit with even the most brushing-resistant toddler.

This brilliant video was posted on Facebook by The Dad Lab:

Mum-of-three, Louise, finds that bringing a light-hearted bit of competition to brushing time effective:

We found quite controversially to make lots of things like into a game with my big 2 as they were so competitive so it was always ‘Who can brush their teeth the fastest/most/who has the shinier teeth competition…we just had to remember to mix up who won every time so there were minimal tears and distract them with something straight away afterwards. LOL!

We have just started a new brushing game with Biggest after she had a 2-minute brushing timer from the dentist’s earlier this week. We have a “race” with the timer to see if she can “win”…there are no logical rules to this game whatsoever but she likes it (and she always wins!).

4) A special toothbrush

This was another popular suggestion, with some mums finding success with buying electric toothbrushes.

Helen kicked us off:

Make a special trip to let them choose their own toothbrush and make a big deal about it.


Katie was a fan of electric:

We bought a spin brush.

Claire also hailed her girl’s special electric brush:

Let them have a special toothbrush. An electric toothbrush when they get old enough is good (my girl loves her Disney princess one).

And I think Sophie’s comment about what her son’s brush requirements are was my favourite of the whole post:

My boy will brush his teeth with only one caveat: he MUST use an adult toothbrush. As with most things he doesn’t like to be seen differently; he likes big cutlery, he must open the car door and climb in himself.

He doesn’t want games, or placating with a Dino-brush, he wants independence and what I use… 💙

We buy him a soft, small headed adults brush.

How sweet?

5) Keeping it positive

Most of the mums cited keeping positive during brushing time as one of their wins.

I loved Helen and her daughter’s ritual:

We do a mirror pose after brushing is complete with “cha-ching!” sound effects for sparkly clean teeth.

Claire was also a fan of keeping it light:

Obviously lots of praise and encouragement, positive reinforcement while they brush.

6) A chewable toothbrush

During Biggest’s most resistant days the only way I got any sort of brushing completed with her was using a chewable toothbrush. Lisa also found a chewable to be effective for her little girl.

7) Use tech

A few mums had good successes when they enlisted the help of tech at tooth-brushing time.

Aimee has an app linked with special electric brushes for her two children:

You can get apps that time them and make it into a game. We have the Oral-B one as it goes with their electric toothbrushes.

Sticking with apps, Pamela recommended the Aquafresh Brush Time App.

Heidi’s child likes to watch Elmo on YouTube to help at brushing time. I found this funky Elmo brushing video when I had a look (and now I can’t get it out of my head! Maybe a bit too funky for the bedtime brush!):

Claire has a relaxed brushing time with her daughter in front of the TV if everything’s a bit too intense:

Brush for them whilst watching TV! 😆
At bedtime I also find brushing teeth downstairs before they go up removes a whole load of tension from the bedtime routine.

8) Reverse Psychology

Some advice for when you just need to get it done!

Marie starts us off:

Reverse psychology, I told my son it was my new toothbrush and then he wanted to do his teeth with it!

And Louise also finds this a winner with her youngest boy:

With our number 3 I have to use a bit of reverse psychology and tell him jokingly that he isn’t allowed to brush his teeth and then that makes him want to do it!

What gentle tips do you have for toddler toothbrushing? Have you discovered any new ones in this post to try?





15 thoughts on “8 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Brush Their Teeth Without Pinning Them Down

  1. What great tips!

    Giving my son ownership in his toothbrush by letting him pick it out helped him quite a bit.

    I love the technology bit too. We have an app that has monsters who sing a teeth brushing song for 2 minutes and models where to brush as the song progresses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great tips. My daughter hates having her teeth brushed. I dread having to do it each morning and evening because of how upset she gets. Things that seem to work are if I sit with her, and daddy brushes both hers and my teeth (I know..), if she looks in the mirror whilst brushing, or is she thinks she is using either mine or her daddys toothbrush. If these dont work I give her the chewable toothbrush just to make sure. #TriumphantTales

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never had much of a problem when Little Man was small, it’s since he’s got bigger he doesn’t like to do it. And he’s so fussy with the toothpaste – I had to bulk buy the only one he would use because they stopped making it! I’m not sure what I will do when the last tube runs out! Great tips here though. Thanks for linking up with us again lovely 🙂 #TriumphantTales

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are some really good tips, especially as I am just embarking on a journey of teeth cleaning with little man! When we went to a Christmas event, there was a stall that sold toothbrushes with a holder for the bottom that connected to an ipad/iphone that allowed the holder to play a game but the controls only worked with a teeth brushing motion. It not only encourages good hygiene but it makes it fun and when you have siblings who love competing, being able to play with multiple players made it sound even more appealing!
    Thank you so much for linking up to #TriumphantTales, I hope to see you again tomorrow!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Loving this post! My son used to be really good at letting us brush his teeth, but at 1.5 he is now completely against the idea. Bad teeth run in my partner’s side of the family, so it’s especially important to us that we make sure his teeth are kept healthy. Unfortunately at the moment that means pinning him down which we absolutely hate! We’ve tried singing songs and making a game out of it, but he’s not quite old enough yet to join in. Hopefully we will get there soon, and he won’t be put off for life.


  6. All great tips – it’s important to flex and remember that one thing might only work for a while, having a list of tricks like this is useful. Thanks for linking to #sharewithme

    Liked by 1 person

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