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How to get your toddler into tooth brushing

If you thought the battle was won when your toddler chomped down on that piece of broccoli, think again. The mealtime battle may be over but the war has just begun if your toddler refuses to brush their teeth.

Dental hygiene isn’t something you should avoid no matter what your age. But when it’s your child’s teeth that need looking after, keeping up with regular tooth brushing is even more important.

As your child gets more teeth and eats more food, regular brushing becomes increasingly important. Ideally you’ve been brushing your baby’s gums before that first tooth has even appeared but if you’re just starting out with a wary toddler, don’t panic — it’s not too late and the brushing battle will get easier with time.

When to start

According to the Australian Dental Association you should begin brushing your baby’s teeth before they even appear. The ADA suggests wiping your baby’s gums with a moistened soft cloth once a day and after those first teeth break through you can switch to a toothbrush specially designed for babies. You can continue this practice once a day after the last feed in the evening up to the age of 18 months.

How to brush a toddler’s teeth

One of the most effective ways to brush your toddler’s teeth is to have them sit in your lap and lean back so you can get a good view of all of their teeth. Use a small smear of low fluoride, sugar-free toothpaste on a small, soft, age-appropriate toothbrush. Brush along the gum line and across all the surface areas of your child’s teeth for a duration of two minutes and then encourage them to spit out any residue. If your toddler isn’t keen on spitting simply wipe inside their mouth gently with a wet wash cloth to remove any leftover toothpaste.

How to brush a reluctant toddler’s teeth

If the thought of your child sitting happily on your lap while you brush their teeth has you gobsmacked, don’t worry — your child is not the only one to hate getting their teeth brushed. In fact, it’s quite common for toddlers to passionately resist any form of unwanted mouth intrusions.

If your toddler is less than compliant when it comes to brushing their teeth take heart — few toddlers are consistently cooperative and even if they are they don’t have the dexterity to do a good job so you’re still going to have to make your way in there.

For a truly reluctant toddler, try brushing your teeth together. Buy matching toothbrushes, stand in front of the bathroom mirror and let them mimic you. If they put the toothbrush in their mouth reward them by letting them spit.

Manage toddler tantrums by teaching independence >>

Once your toddler is happy to have the toothbrush in their mouth let them hold your brush and brush your teeth while you brush theirs. Use whatever toothpaste they like the best and try to count teeth together. Or try involving your toddler’s favourite toy in the experience by having mummy brush its teeth, too.

Try to make the experience a fun one but also set some ground rules — brushing teeth is not negotiable so, like changing a nappy, it’s just something your toddler is going to have to get used to.

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