Tackling toddler brushing

As a parent, you probably already know that brushing your toddler’s teeth can often be a challenging task, both in the morning and just before bedtime.

So how can you make your life, and your toddler’s life, a little bit easier when it comes to brushing? Catherine Rutland, Simplyhealth’s Head Dental Officer, offers some top tips to tackle toddler brushing.

Make it fun

“Turn brush time into a fun game with the family,” advises Catherine. “This can be achieved by playing two minutes’ of music to brush along to, singing along to songs or making up rhymes about brushing. Watch our child-friendly video about how to brush your teeth, featuring a dinosaur who loves to brush his teeth by roaring.” 

Make it relevant

“Toddlers are all about copying at this age, so it can be helpful to brush together as a family so they learn it’s an important part of your everyday routine,” advises Catherine. “They may also be inspired to look after their teeth by their favourite TV characters. There is a Peppa Pig episode about visiting the dentist, as well as a book. The CBeebies channel has also recently aired a brilliant Hey Duggee episode all about brushing your teeth which parents may find useful to inspire younger brushers.”

Get them involved

“Let your toddler take part; get them involved in the process of brushing their teeth like turning the tap on and off, and squeezing a smear of toothpaste onto the toothbrush,” suggests Catherine. “By getting them involved, brushing their teeth will become a healthy habit rather than a chore for you as a parent.”

Use rewards

“Reinforce brushing as a positive experience by introducing a brushing chart or another rewards-based system,” suggests Catherine. “Once your child has successful completed their chart, give them a pre-agreed reward. You can download a brushing chart from the Big Family Brush-Up website.” 

Make them comfortable

“Finding a comfortable position for both of you will make brushing a more positive experience,” says Catherine. “Some parents find it easier to sit the baby or toddler directly in front of you in a bouncer or chair. Others find it easier to stand or sit behind your child, cradling their chin in your hand so you can reach their top and bottom teeth more easily.”

Ensuring a thorough brush

"Your toddler may want to show their independence by brushing themselves,” says Catherine. “Let them have a go at brushing themselves, but try to ensure that you get two minutes’ worth of proper brushing in afterwards yourself, as there will areas that they miss. To ensure you reach all the surfaces of their teeth, get them to open wide and roar like a dinosaur or lion to reach their back teeth, and ask them to say ‘cheeeese!’ to brush their front teeth.” 

Tackling the tantrums

“Sometimes toddlers just decide that they’re not going to brush their teeth and refuse to open their mouths, or throw a tantrum,” says Catherine. “This is completely normal from time to time, but can be stressful for parents if it becomes a regular pattern. Try not to force your child to brush as this can make the situation worse. Use distraction techniques (such as playing with their favourite toy or reading a book) and then try again a few minutes later when they have calmed down.”

Brush at the optimum times

“In the mornings, it’s common for parents to skip the morning brush because families are often busy getting ready for work or nursery,” says Catherine. “It can be helpful to brush their teeth as soon as they wake up so that it’s not the last thing you’re rushing to do before leaving the house. It doesn’t matter if you do this before breakfast.

“Brush last thing at night, spit the toothpaste out but don’t rinse. This ensures the excess toothpaste continues to bathe your child’s teeth in fluoride for as long as possible. Try not to give any milk or other drinks, apart from water, after they’ve brushed.”

Remember the essentials

  • Brush for two minutes, twice a day
  • Use a suitable strength fluoride toothpaste for their age group – this should be 1,000ppm for children under three years old
  • Use a smear of toothpaste for children under three years old to stop them swallowing too much
  • Use a toothbrush that they like (favourite colour or character) and a fluoride toothpaste that they like the taste of
  • Replace toothbrushes every three months, or sooner if they’ve chewed the brush and splayed the bristles

You can ensure your child receives the best start in oral healthcare by registering them on Denplan for Children. This plan is designed with your child in mind and tailored specifically to their dental needs. 

To find out more, speak to a member dentist near you. 


toddler Brushing teeth

You can begin brushing your child's teeth as soon as they start coming in