When it comes to the cleaning or checking of mouth, Emma used to shut it really tight and turned her head away. For many months, she didn't mind playing and biting with the toothbrush but she simply refused to brush or let me help her brush.
I tried many ways but she just continued to bite her toothbrush as if it was a teething toy but was fine to gurgle her mouth every day. I didn't (couldn't) give up as it is really important for her to take care of her teeth. 7 long months went by and Emma finally started to brush properly a few weeks back! She even asked to brush teeth after her 1st and last milk feed now.
Teeth brushing doesn't come natural for all the children and if you have a strong willed child like Emma, here are some ways you can try to help your child with brushing.
5 ways to encourage toddlers to brush their teeth
1. Start young
It's good to start brushing as early as their tooth erupt and slowly cultivate the good habit. We started off using a cloth to clean her mouth then a baby toothbrush before she turned 1 year old. However, the serious brushing affair only started when she was about 19 months.
If you haven't start brushing yet, it's never too late to start!
2. Get the right tools
For us, it's toothbrush, flouride-free toothpaste, cup for gurgling and stool. She is still using Aquafresh toothbrush and First Teeth toothpaste. We skipped the toothpaste for a while as she suddenly didn't like the taste and slowly re-introduced it. She loves it so much now.
Instead of using the normal tap water for gurgling, I gave her half a cup of boiled water. At the start, she didn't know how to spit it out and kept on drinking them. After much exaggerated demonstration, she mastered it and now gurgling and spitting pretty well.
Like many kids, Emma loves the independence. Having her stand up on the stool gave her the feeling of being in-control. However, it's always important to hold on to them especially when they are younger. By the way, in case you wonder, the marks on her thumb are caused by her thumbsucking (biting).
3. Set up a routine
Having a routine helps to prepare Emma as she knows it's time for brushing and reduces resistance. I admit it's tempting to quickly put her to bed without brushing, especially when she wasn't even brushing. However, I know I must not break the routine or give her the notion of skipping brushing so brushing still goes on on lazy days.
Don't worry if things don't go smoothly, there is always tomorrow to try. Just enjoy the process. It helps to keep the brushing duration short and slowly lengthens the brushing time.
She now brushes twice a day - morning and night. At times when I was tempted to skip it or in the rush, she would remind me of brushing.
4. Lead by example
Emma loves to watch us brush! She got so used to it that she could even tell that Daddy is brushing when we were in the living room just by listening. There isn't a fast rule for this but showing Emma how to brush teeth set a strong foundation for her. By watching, she build interest in brushing and learnt the way to brush. Moreover, most kids love to imitate the parents.
5. Make it fun
Having something poking around in their mouth can be daunting for the toddlers and here's some way to make it fun for them.
1. Use brightly colored toothbrush or those with characters
2. Sing brushing song like "This is the way we brush our teeth"
3. Show brushing videos
4. Let her brush your teeth and you brush hers
5. Take turns to brush
6. Brush her favourite soft toy's "teeth"
7. Use sound like "Teeee" and "Ahhhh" to help them open and close their mouth
8. Let her do it herself - squeezing of toothpaste, gurgling, washing of cup and toothbrush
9. Stand her up on the stool and let her look into the mirror to see how she is brushing
10. Give lots of encouragement
What eventually works for Emma?
Over the months, I tried all except 6 but she was still biting her toothbrush and dislikes me helping her to brush. Thankfully, things finally changed after I "added" in a very simple sound to her routine. It's isn't so much about singing or the eee and ahhh to open her mouth, it's the sound of brushing. As I brush my teeth, I went close to her and asked her if she hear any sound.
It was random and I didn't know if that would work until she told me "got sound" when she tried to brush. I guessed the cause-and-effect method works for her and she learnt how brushing should be like. From then on, she began to brush instead of biting and would tell me "got sound". When she wasn't brushing properly, I would remind and ask her if there is any sound. After she finished brushing, I would do a second brush for her.
Even though she isn't brushing thoroughly and we probably need to send her to dentist for a check soon, I'm very proud of her little achievement and glad that our hard work paid off. Brushing is now a fun exciting activity for her and she loves it so much! I know kids change along the way and I pray that she will continue to cultivate a good brushing habit.
Hope these few ways could help your kid and feel free to share your tricks too! I'm sure that there are many fun brushing games around. Don't give up if brushing isn't working out for you and your little ones, every child is different and we been through the same frustration too. Just keep to the routine and take things slow. I'm sure your little ones will slowly get the hang of it really soon!