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Fun Activities to Encourage Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth
Is there a way to make tooth brushing fun for toddlers? (Or anyone, really?!)
There’s no denying that getting a toddler to brush their teeth can be a difficult task. It often feels more like a chore than a basic aspect of their hygiene routine.
Tooth brushing can be nerve-wracking for young children, since it’s difficult for them to understand it. They may be wary of sticking a toothbrush in their mouth if they don’t know why they’re doing it or why it’s important.
The foundation of healthy dental hygiene habits is built in early childhood. If children do not learn the importance of taking care of their teeth as a child, they won’t take it seriously as an adult, either. It’s so important to prioritize dental hygiene in early childhood because it builds lifelong healthy habits.
The sooner you familiarize your child with toothbrushing and dental hygiene as a whole, the better the habits will stick, making it more likely they’ll continue these habits on their own.
The key is to make toothbrushing fun, engaging, and something that they’ll look forward to. Which brings us to the reason we’re here — how to make tooth brushing fun for toddlers.
How to Make Tooth Brushing Fun for Toddlers
We’ve compiled some exciting ideas below for you to try with your child to hopefully improve their toothbrushing routine and save some of your sanity.
Sing a Silly Song
Music is a toddler parent’s best friend! Catchy tunes are an easy and fun way to engage your child more in an activity or routine.
If your child needs additional help with toothbrushing, a simple song may do the trick. “This Is The Way We Brush Our Teeth” is a catchy one.
There are plenty of amazing songs on the internet, especially YouTube. You could also do what we do at our house, which is to pick a familiar tune and make up your own words. (Oh, yeah, we’ve got a whole album of Mickelson family classics!)
There are also tons of helpful and fun apps you can download that will play music for your child on a two-minute timer for their brushing routine. Find what songs work for you and your child and go with that.
The Sugar Bug Game
Get rid of sugar bugs! The sugar bug game is a crowd favorite.
Pretend with your child that there are imaginary “sugar bugs,” created by food particles, on their teeth. The only way to get rid of them is to brush them off with their toothbrush.
This gives them a defined objective and eventually will stir up intrinsic motivation within them to want to brush on their own. It makes toothbrushing fun for them and gives them a tangible goal to achieve.
Where the Sugar Bugs Live is a great book you could pair with this game.
Let Them Pick Out a Fun Toothbrush
Involving them in the process may be all you need to get your child excited about toothbrushing. There are so many different types of fun toothbrushes out there.
A light-up toothbrush, a toothbrush in their favorite color or with their favorite characters on it, or toothpaste with their favorite flavor could be the game changer you need to make them eager about brushing their teeth!
Make it an exciting event by taking them on a special shopping trip to pick out their brushing supplies.
Brush Teeth While In The Bath
This is one of the simplest changes to make, but it was so impactful in our household.
Brushing teeth, especially at night, was such a battle. It was a power struggle, thanks to budding toddler independence, which I didn’t want to extinguish.
Tooth brushing was not something that any of us looked forward to. It was one of the last things we did each night before bed, and it was frustrating and sad to see how it ended our day so negatively.
One night, we decided to consolidate the bedtime routine because it had been a long day, so I gave my kiddo a toothbrush while in the bathtub. Tooth brushing soon became part of bath time “play,” and we all regained our sanity.
Sometimes, it really can be as simple as that!
Involve A Book In The Routine
There are so many great books about toothbrushing for toddlers and preschoolers. You could read books about toothbrushing with your child any time, but especially while they’re brushing.
They could brush their teeth as you read it to them which may make them more comfortable with all of it. You could also just read any book to them while they brush as a partial distraction technique and a way to get them to brush for long enough.
Some cute and engaging toothbrushing books for toddlers:
“Brushing Off The Plaque” Activity
This isn’t something you can do during the actual tooth brushing routine, but it’s an activity you can do at a different time to make your child more comfortable with the idea of brushing teeth. It also helps them understand why brushing their teeth is important in a hands-on way.
Laminate an image of a tooth and color on it with a dry-erase marker. Give your child a toothbrush to brush off the “plaque” (not a toothbrush they use in their mouth.)
If you don’t have access to a laminator or self-adhesive laminating sheets, contact paper or a sheet protector will work just fine!
Brush Your Teeth Together
Modeling is the ultimate teacher. Children are little sponges; they absorb everything.
If they see you brushing your teeth, it will look more appealing to them. They’ll want to mimic you. Make it a special element of bonding time together.
That way, you’ll both look forward to it instead of dreading it.
Brush a Toy’s Teeth
Learning through play is the ultimate way for children to gain new knowledge and skills. There are many ways your child can learn more about toothbrushing through play. Dentist toy sets are helpful to have on hand for your child to explore.
Playdoh makes a great dentist playdough set, or you could also just make homemade playdough and provide dentist toys for them to explore with.
A baby doll or stuffed animal with an open mouth or exposed teeth would be fun for them to play with. This familiarizes your child with the act of brushing and makes them more comfortable with it while they do it on “someone” else.
“Chugga Chugga” Game
Pretend the toothbrush is a train and your child’s teeth are the train tracks! Guide the “train” over their teeth, and make it fun for them by saying “chugga chugga” and making other train sounds.
Any other similar games (pretend it’s a car, plane, etc.) you can come up with that your child will connect to will work, too! Eventually, they’ll start playing their own games, strengthening their motivation and independence with toothbrushing.
Significance of a Tooth Brushing Routine
It is widely assumed that dental hygiene isn’t that big of a deal in early childhood since a child’s baby teeth will eventually fall out anyway. However, this is a misconception — not the truth!
The health of a child’s baby teeth ultimately impacts the health of their permanent teeth. A toothbrushing routine helps prevent tooth decay which can potentially lead to cavities and dental disease if untreated. Baby teeth are thinner than permanent teeth, and require special care and attention.
The longer baby teeth stay in the mouth, the better it is for the positioning of their permanent teeth. Having a daily toothbrushing routine teaches children what it’s like to have a sense of personal responsibility. It gives them something structured to depend on every morning and evening
When Should You Start Brushing?
Many dentists recommend brushing your child’s teeth as soon as you see them come in (source). For the first year or so, you will want to wash your baby’s teeth with just water on the toothbrush, or you can simply wipe their teeth with a clean washcloth to take away any food particles.
It’s important to be gentle since their mouth could be sore from teething.
When you start using toothpaste, use an amount about the size of a grain of rice. You can begin adding a pea-sized amount of toothpaste when they are able to spit the toothpaste out.
Make sure to have them brush twice a day, morning and night. Rinsing your child’s mouth with a sip of water after they eat is a good idea too, whenever you can remember to have them do it.
Your child might need your assistance with dental hygiene at least until eight years old, and the younger they are, the more critical it is that you help them out.
Getting toddlers to brush their teeth can be a battle…but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to stay patient while you find a way to make tooth brushing fun (or, at least, tolerable) for your toddler.
Every family and every child is different. You might have to get a bit creative, but try to enjoy the process together!
Just with everything else in early childhood, this phase is fleeting. This too shall pass. They will eventually get it, and maybe even have some fun along the way.