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AIBU?

Having issues with toddler toothbrushing

86 replies

Archie1989 · 05/10/2020 16:19

Help! My 2 year old WILL NOT brush his teeth and will not open his mouth to let me brush them. He point blank refuses. I’ve tried everything. I got a pop up book where you brush the animal’s teeth, we brush his teddy bear’s teeth, we try to get him to brush our teeth. We got a fancy flashing light rocket toothbrush. We sing songs....we have even resorted to YouTube cartoons of tooth brushing for toddlers. Nothing works.

The worst bit, we took him to the dentist and it looks like he needs a filling. The dentist said not to go to the extent of holding him down, because it’ll make it worse.

He doesn’t have juice or sweets, but he does eat a lot of fruit and cereal and he grazes. The dentist said it could be the grazing and cereal.

Please don’t judge. I’m trying my best.

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Archie1989 · 05/10/2020 16:29

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Ohalrightthen · 05/10/2020 16:34

I don't think you have many options here.

1 - completely cut out grazing and cereal, and hope there isnt too much decay while you're waiting for him to get over it
2 - pin him down and brush his teeth

We had this issue when my nephew lived with us (about 3yrs old). I told him he had a choice, he could open up and help me, or I'd pin him down and do it myself. For a week he resisted, i gave him a choice every time, and after about 6 days he started choosing to do it himself. Keep your voice calm, you're not angry, this is just something that has to happen. It's like putting a seatbelt on, or holding your hand when he crosses the road. He has to do it. He can choose how it happens, but it is happening either way.

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Archie1989 · 05/10/2020 16:39

@Ohalrightthen thank you for your comment. We had resorted to pinning him down a couple of times. It seems so traumatic for him....but we’re getting nowhere otherwise. When we have done that, he bites down on the toothbrush too, so it makes it hard to brush.

Bless him, when he has tried himself, he just doesn’t do the back teeth, so it’s not a proper job. But it’s like he is trying....so it seems so mean to then put him through the trauma.

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Redwolf1 · 05/10/2020 16:42

My first always loved brushing her teeth and I never had to force her so i got a big fright when dd2 was a refuser. Anyway I've always said it's not negotiable and at bedtime she doesn't leave the bathroom until they are done. I've had to pin her down a lot but now shes nearly 2.5 she has a turn first and then let's me have a turn. You just have to keep persevering

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Ohalrightthen · 05/10/2020 16:42

[quote Archie1989]@Ohalrightthen thank you for your comment. We had resorted to pinning him down a couple of times. It seems so traumatic for him....but we’re getting nowhere otherwise. When we have done that, he bites down on the toothbrush too, so it makes it hard to brush.

Bless him, when he has tried himself, he just doesn’t do the back teeth, so it’s not a proper job. But it’s like he is trying....so it seems so mean to then put him through the trauma.[/quote]
At 2 he shouldn't be brushing his own teeth, they dont have the necessary manual dexterity til 7 or 8. He can help, but you need to do it.

Also, in the nicest possible way, the "trauma" is irrelevant. He has to brush his teeth, or they will rot. As you're finding out. Fillings are not at all pleasant for anyone, let alone a toddler. You need to stop thinking about this as being optional, it does him a huge disservice.

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littlelionroars · 05/10/2020 16:43

Oh my goodness, I could have written this post myself, right down to the fancy rocket toothbrush.

My DS is 2.5 and he is an utter nightmare with letting us brush his teeth. He generally throws massive tantrums every morning and evening over it.

I wish I had some more solid advice for you but I'm pretty much in the same place - However here are a couple of things that have helped slightly:

A Paw Patrol sticker book. I give him a sticker every time he brushes teeth without crying or running away. He gets to choose which sticker he wants and puts it in the book.

I let him brush his teeth for the most part, and then right at the end I give him a once over. This way he feels in control but is still getting a decent brush from me.

Strawberry flavoured toothpaste in a paw patrol themed tube, he cannot stand mint, it's "too spicy" apparently.

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Mylittlepony374 · 05/10/2020 16:46

I read this tip on here & it really worked for us. Once you've got them to brush their teeth (at all the first time) make a stupidly embarrassing big deal over how shiny they are. I put my hands over my eyes and pretend the sparkle brightness is blinding me. Been doing this with my 3.⁵ year old for aaagges now and she still loves it.
She was like your little one too. Has sensory issues so very difficult to force her into something she doesn't want to do.
We also got her an electric toothbrush which she loves, but I think they may only be for over 3s.

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Embracelife · 05/10/2020 16:46

Oranurse unflavoured toothpaste.
Wrap him in towel so he cannot move and brush
Be calm about it but firm

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TenShortStories · 05/10/2020 16:47

I always found that 'spotting' a little animal in their mouth worked a treat. Then basically a continuous stream of over-enthusiastic talking to entertain/distract while you brush, like this:

"Hold on, what's that, I just spotted a squirrel in your mouth. Open up and let me take a look, oh yes, there it is. It just ran behind that tooth. I'm going to chase it with the brush. Can you feel it running? Oh no a cat has seen it, hide squirrel, hide. There's a chase going on, they're going up along these teeth, and down these ones. Yikes, a dog is joining in too.... Etc, etc"

You can swap in any characters or interests of your own toddler! Start short with just a couple of moments of it and build up.

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Archie1989 · 05/10/2020 16:47

@Ohalrightthen you’re right. I agree. His reaction has upset me as I feel like I’m almost being abusive having to hold him down and he’s in tears while it’s done. Hearing you say it’s necessary has helped. I don’t have other mum friends who have had this issue, so I thought maybe I am being cruel and had got us in a vicious cycle. Especially now the dentist said I shouldn’t do it. He said to do it bit by bit over the day, but we get nowhere.

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OoohTheStatsDontLie · 05/10/2020 16:48

I have pinned mine down before. Although it was unpleasant it gets them down really quick when they are screaming! Other things that have helped us are watching a favourite tv show or you tube st the same time, holding them upside down from my legs and brushing as they are laughing, me chewing gum and blowing bubbles in their face as I do it (no idea why, it seems to distract them), trying strawberry flavoured toothpaste, doing it a while before the bedtime routine and saying if they cooperate they can go outside and play for 5 minutes etc. Otherwise if he is a deep sleeper could you try when he is asleep?

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LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett · 05/10/2020 16:48

My DS has ASD and toothbrushing has always been an issue.

Best advice I ever got was 'have someone brush your teeth for you and see how you like it.' (It's horrible, by the way!). I 'get' the desire to pin them down and get it done, believe me, but it doesn't work long-term, is traumatic and I actually think it's unlikely to be done well if you're bracing a wriggling, screaming two year old.

I would try different toothpaste flavours, it may be a sensory issue related to taste or foam - my DS uses an unflavoured toothpaste called Oranurse.

Try a mouthwash if he's old enough to spit, which will at least get some flouride in there.

Start right from the beginning, breaking it down into tiny steps and praising/rewarding each step - if you google toothbrushing for ASD children you'll get some ideas (I'm not suggesting your child has ASD, but that the strategies for ASD might work for them).

You'll need to restrict sugary foods while doing the above.

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Natsku · 05/10/2020 16:50

Definitely cut out the grazing, eating should be limited to 5 times a day (so 3 meals and 2 snacks) and if you can get xylitol pastilles give them after each time he eats.

I think pinning him down would be less traumatic than him having to get fillings. When my youngest refused teeth brushing I lay him down with his head in my lap and my legs holding his arms down and brushed while he yelled (which conveniently meant he opened his mouth), I had to do it for maybe a year but he finally realised it wasn't the end of the world and now he lets me brush though he keeps his eyes tightly closed during!

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TenShortStories · 05/10/2020 16:52

Another thing that has worked is to have the loaded toothbrush and then start saying in a silly way:

"Right, where does this go?" and start zooming in towards their ear/tummy button/nose etc. "Does it go here? No? I'm sure it does. Where does it go then? You show me then. Oh like this?
Am I doing it right" etc.

And if it's the toothpaste that's the issue you can start with none, and sneak a tiny bit more on each day until you're at normal amounts.

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LindaEllen · 05/10/2020 16:55

It has to become a part of the morning and night routine, to the point where it's non-negotiable and it's just second nature to do it.

Is there anything he really enjoys at bed time, like a story? Maybe tell him he won't get a story unless his teeth are brushed, or he can't have his favourite toy that day if they haven't been done.

I know your dentist said don't force him, but I honestly don't see how else it's going to be done if gentle persuasion doesn't work. He certainly won't enjoy getting a filling - so this has to stop now!

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Pumpkinnose · 05/10/2020 16:56

I held mine down. He’s now 5 and no hint of trauma at all and no fillings. He’ll grow out if fighting it but you must brush his teeth!

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vanillandhoney · 05/10/2020 16:57

What toothpaste are you using?

Could you maybe try a strawberry one (or similar) instead of mint? I remember finding toothpaste really minty as a small child and it made me hate doing my teeth!

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whatswithtodaytoday · 05/10/2020 17:03

My 1.5 year old has to be held down sometimes. There are videos on YouTube for good techniques - I find the one where his head goes between your thighs and your legs hold down his legs best. Screaming is good, it makes it easier. Thankfully he's been better lately, I think because he's realised it's non-negotiable to some extent. He recovers from the trauma of being held down very quickly.

Other methods I use are:

  • Giving him something to hold that he likes to put in his mouth (mascara, another toothbrush, etc) and getting my brush in first.
  • Hey Duggee and Elmo teeth brushing videos
  • Brushing in the bath while on video call to Grandma - she makes him laugh, I pounce!
  • If all else fails, chewable toothbrush so at least he's getting flouride and some movement in there.


It is horrible, so stressful.
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sarahc336 · 05/10/2020 17:05

What about a reward star chart, we had to resort to this a while back with my toddler, she only got a sticker for a proper brush then after so many stickers/stars she'd get a reward, cheap toy/book etc. X

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Archie1989 · 05/10/2020 17:06

We have been using a strawberry flavoured toothpaste.

A few mentions of ASD on here. This has been at the back of my mind for a few reasons. He is nearly 2, but has few words. He still doesn’t say mama. He doesn’t really sleep for longer than a few hours at a time and he’s a very fussy eater indeed.

With the eating, an allergy doctor said it might be related to allergies he has. We’re waiting for an appointment for allergy testing, but it’s on hold due to Covid. When we had a phone appointment, we were told that some foods might feel like stinging nettles in his mouth, so to not push the eating lots of different foods too much

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grandmasterstitch · 05/10/2020 17:08

We brush away the food monsters. The louder I scream (pretending to be the food monsters) the funnier it is and the wider he opens his mouth. It's ridiculous but it works. For now at least. I have pinned him down in the past, he scream and I feel awful but he needs to brush his teeth, it's not really negotiable so he has to put up with it. It'll get easier I hope!

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Somuchroom · 05/10/2020 17:14

My dentist said the opposite. Wrap them up in a towel and when they start screaming get in there with the toothbrush and do your best.

For what it’s worth this was only a short period in ds life. Now he is 3, not traumatised in the slightest and brushes his teeth like a dream morning and night.

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lambo88 · 05/10/2020 17:17

I would try the brush baby electric toothbrush with the apple mint toothpaste...our little boy is 2 and loves his as it also lights up...so I brush his teeth then he has a go...just try and limit snacking and for him to drink water or milk as this will help prevent decay xx

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Somethingvague · 05/10/2020 17:17

We have to pin our 27 month old down. Either that or we could never get them done. I think it's better than ending up with bad teeth and resulting pain. It's a non negotiable for us.

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vlnr77yac · 05/10/2020 18:14

Do it in the high chair when he was strapped in so he can't run or kick.
Also I switched off the TV and only allowed his show after the brushing.
You must be disciplined - 2-3 times same time every day to set the habit.
And get rid of the cereal and juice and soda out the house - its horrible stuff anyway. 3 meals a day - minimal snacks except coconut water, nuts, fruit.
You can do it !!!!

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