Tips for Encouraging Resistant Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth
Along with every aspect of a toddler’s growth and development, oral health is highly essential. As you witness the gradual formation of your child’s first set of teeth, you begin to realize that getting your kid to brush his or her teeth regularly is both a necessity and a responsibility. Whilst some toddlers are cooperative and are always on the go for trying new routines, some resist anything new more than you can imagine.
If your little one does not let you touch or even get near his or her pearly whites, then you know you have a dilemma. However, before you feel stressed out, here are a few reasons why your toddler may dislike the idea of brushing and flossing, and some tips and tricks to make the process smoother.
Why Some Toddlers Refuse to Floss and Brush
It springs from a toddler’s desire for control and autonomy.
Toddlers naturally yearn for control and independence, and oftentimes, this comes with a steely resolve. From ages one to three, children experience rapid growth and development. When this is coupled with high energy and natural curiosity, it may lead them to develop a huge desire to control the world around them. This is one of the major roadblocks most parents face when it comes to brushing and flossing their toddler’s teeth and you may find your little one resisting your attempts. However, when handled properly, you’ll find plenty of ways to achieve optimal oral health for your toddler without denying him or her that teeny-weeny “independence” he or she longs for.
They lack motivation and think that brushing their teeth is boring.
Toddlers tend to look away from overly familiar things and avoid new tasks that seem complex. So, they may shy away from brushing and flossing their teeth because they think it’s too boring. This is where a parent’s creativity comes in. If you introduce brushing as an exciting and interesting routine to do, then your toddler will be more likely to feel motivated and become a willing participant in the process.
They’re afraid that brushing and flossing might hurt.
Sometimes, toddlers develop unrealistic fears because they have a very limited understanding of cause and effect. They are afraid that brushing and flossing their teeth might hurt and can potentially cause them harm. Combine that with new tastes and sensations, and it is understandable why a toddler may fight the process of taking care of their teeth. To help toddlers overcome this, it’s best not to force or rush them to eradicate their fear and immediately do what you want. Instead, try to give your young one enough time to adjust to this new routine, combine the familiar with the unfamiliar, and guide them every step of the way.
It may be due to sensory and sensitivity issues.
Some toddlers also resist brushing and flossing their teeth because of sensory processing disorder (SPD). This condition hinders the brain from properly receiving and processing information obtained from different senses and usually causes people to be more sensitive to stimuli than others. It is common in children with autism but even if your child is not diagnosed with autism, he or she may still experience sensory processing issues. It is even common for adults.
Your toddler may fight and even scream just by feeling the bristles touching their teeth, the taste of their toothpaste, or the bubbles that come with brushing. For others, it could be the sound of brushing or the look of the toothbrush or bathroom, or even the temperature of the floor. That is quite challenging both for you and your little one. However, if you try to figure out what specific aspects bother your child, you can help them find ease and comfort in brushing their teeth. Don’t worry, we have some tips for helping you out with this, too!
How to Encourage Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth
The moment your child’s first baby tooth appears, their brushing journey begins. These baby teeth may be tiny, but they are highly important as they serve as placeholders for adult teeth. To achieve a healthy set of pearly whites for your young one, you can start by putting a rice grain-sized bit of fluoride-free toothpaste on a kiddie toothbrush and gently brush his or her teeth. If they are interested, you can let your child face the mirror to see what you are doing. When you begin this routine early, your baby can easily adjust and should eventually embrace this without hesitation. Toddlers tend to be more independent and may fight more if you wait to introduce brushing into their regular routine.
Lead by example.
One of the most effective ways to encourage your toddlers to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Toddlers around 18 months of age mimic others’ actions that have more than one step, while those around 36 months old portray multiple steps of others’ actions which they’ve observed at an earlier time. In line with this, parents who brush their teeth in front of their toddlers will most likely reap positive results and get their kids to easily imitate what they do.
To pull this off, you need to make it a habit of brushing your teeth with your toddler every single day. By doing so, you’re giving him or her the impression that it is a fun thing to do with the family and there is really nothing to fear. Moreover, you can show your little one that these rules apply to everyone and it’s good to be passionate and excited about brushing one’s teeth.
Be consistent and make it part of the routine.
Like all facets of child-rearing, consistency is always the key. No matter how busy you may get, be consistent in brushing and flossing with your toddler. By doing so, you’re not only leading your kid to have a healthy set of teeth, but you’re also giving him or her the idea that brushing is not something that you could just simply ignore.
Further, toddlers thrive on routine and knowing what is coming next. They are more likely to fight something that is outside of the normal routine. If it is part of the routine, they may even begin to remind you on a day you are tempted to let it slide!
Use colorful materials to attract your toddler’s attention.
Bright and contrasting colors stand out more to toddlers than pale and dull ones. Since toddlers perceive bright colors as more stimulating and interesting, it would be an excellent idea to entice them with bright-colored brushing and flossing materials. You can start by purchasing colorful toothbrushes and washcloths for your toddler. You can also wrap the walls around your bathroom with eye-catching wallpapers or temporary decals featuring animals or your kid’s favorite cartoon characters. By doing this, you’re appealing to their interests, which is a good starting point in encouraging your children to brush their teeth.
Spearhead positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is vital in all aspects of a child’s health and development. In the context of dental hygiene for toddlers, nothing comes too easy — but with proper and creative reinforcement, you can encourage your kids to brush their teeth without it becoming a battle of wills.
You can persuade your kids to brush their teeth willingly by giving them incentives such as:
“I’ll give you an extra bit of your favorite food if you don’t resist when I brush your teeth.”
“You’ll get a new toy every two weeks if you help brush and floss your teeth every day.”
“You’ll be rewarded with an extra cartoon or a visit to the park if you don’t complain about brushing and flossing.”
Many toddlers also love reward charts and stickers. Combine the two and you provide a perfect incentive for your child.
(Here is a great article from Harvard on general ways to motivate children and another specific to toddlers from Michigan State University. With a bit of thought, the ideas could definitely be applied to brushing and flossing!)
It is also ideal for toddlers to be exposed to these concepts of reward and consequence because they’ll get to realize at a young age that what they do now will either positively or negatively impact the course of their future. That’s simply hitting two birds with one stone.
Feed your child’s desire for independence.
Let your kiddo have a turn brushing and flossing before or after the adult does it. Not only does this feed the common toddler refrain to “do it myself” it also allows them to develop the necessary skills over time, without the pressure to do it perfectly.
As toddlers long for independence, you can give them a glimpse of it by letting them choose the type of toothbrush they want to use in a particular 3-month period. You can either bring them to the store and let them pick the toothbrush of their choice, or you can buy a few interesting toothbrushes and let them pick from that collection every three months.
You can opt for Paw Patrol or Disney-themed toothbrushes, or anything that piques the interest of your little one. In doing this, you are giving your kid more reasons to look forward to the next three months where he or she can pick a colorful and attractive toothbrush to use. That just makes your toddler’s dental health journey more interesting and fun!
Be creatively accommodating for kids with sensory issues.
Brushing the teeth of your toddler might be easy-peasy for some parents — however, this is not the case for kids with sensory processing issues. If your child experiences this, you can start with small but wise steps until he or she gets used to the idea of brushing. You may begin by opting for a washcloth that is more familiar than a toothbrush - or even putting the toothpaste on your finger and gently massaging your toddler’s teeth and gums. You can also try a silicon toothbrush instead of a nylon one. The former has softer bristles, and the different texture may be more acceptable to your child.
You may also want to avoid minty toothpaste, as that might give an unpleasant tingling or burning sensation. (Some do like the minty feel, though, so it never hurts to offer it as an option!) Instead, you can opt for a kid-friendly toothpaste with delightful flavors such as mango, strawberry, or bubble gum. Furthermore, it’s often best to use room-temperature water in brushing your child’s teeth as cold water might be uncomfortable. This may sound like a lot of work to do but your child’s oral health is worth every ounce of your effort — always remember that.
A Bit of Extra Info
Now that you’re aware of the reasons why toddlers may resist brushing and flossing their teeth, you may have come up with powerful ideas on how to successfully begin your child’s oral health journey. However, there are a few more things you should know.
First off, it’s helpful to be knowledgeable about fluoride. Although this natural substance is essential for your child’s oral health, too much of anything can be dangerous. Hence, it is important for you to know how much toothpaste to apply. Many people use far more than is recommended!A grain-sized amount of fluoride-free toothpaste is perfect for children under 3 years old, and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste with fluoride is ideal for kids 3-6 years old. And of course, never forget about this non-negotiable rule: help your kids brush their teeth twice a day!
Secondly, it is important to seek help if you are having ongoing difficulties brushing your toddler’s teeth. We can help you discover ways to make the process smoother, offer specific advice for your situation if your child resists brushing, as well as provide a broader dental health education. Sometimes, hearing it from someone else motivates a child! Additionally, the good thing about consulting a dental expert is that you and your children will be educated about proper dental hygiene, dietary guidelines to follow, and habits to avoid in order to achieve healthier and stronger teeth. A well-informed family has greater chances of preventing oral diseases in children and that is one advantage your kids should enjoy.
Being diligent in encouraging your toddler to brush their teeth really pays off and that’s one of the greatest health investments you could ever give to your little ones. It’s always a win-win situation for both parties: you get to impose discipline on your toddlers in the most pleasant way possible and at the same time, they get higher chances of preventing tooth decay and other dental problems from affecting their overall oral health.
Here at Jungle Roots, we take pleasure in educating parents and children on the importance of dental hygiene and how to observe preventive measures for optimal dental health. If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s dental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re more than willing to help you!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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