‘My toddler fusses and clamps his mouth shut when i try to brush his teeth.’
It’s his mouth, and he’s letting you know that he doesn’t appreciate your intrusion into it. The tussle of the toothbrush is just another skirmish in your toddler’s valiant struggle for self-determination. Since surrender on his side is unlikely, and surrender on yours isn’t wise (even baby teeth need to be protected from cavities), a little creative compromise is called for:
- Enlist an ally. As you may have noticed, an authoritative third voice always has much more impact than the voice of a parent. So turn to the doctor or dentist to explain the importance of brushing his teeth. When your child gives you an argument remind him: ‘The doctor (or dentist) said we have to brush your teeth so they’ll stay healthy.’
- Brush in style. Let your toddler choose two or three colourful child-size toothbrushes (be sure the bristles are soft and of good quality). Then, each morning and evening, let him select the one he wants to use. This diminishes the control issue and may distract him enough so that he’ll forget to protest.
- Let him do it himself, Mum. Give your toddler his own brush to do some preliminary brushing. Don’t worry about his technique or the condition of his toothbrush (the bristles will soon become flattened and misshapen); just let him get the job done the best way he knows how. Help praise on his efforts, even if they’re feeble. As he becomes more proficient, you may be also to let him take over the morning bushing completely, while you continue to help out at bedtime. But don’t except really proficient, independent brushing until somewhere around age seven.
Letting your toddler brush the teeth’ of a stuffed animal or doll (using a toothbrush reserved for play) at brushing time may make him more amenable to having someone else take a brush to his mouth.
- Then do it yourself. After you’ve told your toddler what a great job he’s done on his teeth, take your turn – using a different brush. Let him sit in front of the mirror, where he can watch you work, so he feels he’s still participating. Approaching him from behind, tilting his head back slightly, may give you the best visibility and maneuverability. Or you can sit on the floor, seat him in your lap, and have him lean back against you. Letting him hold the toothbrush along with you will let him maintain some control over the process (while giving him some experience in a proper technique), as will giving him a complete brush-by-brush as you can go (“These two teeth look nice and clean, let’s try the next two.’) Or try the tooth for a tooth approach: have him brush your teeth after you brush his. Injecting a little levity – ‘accidentally’ brushing his nose or his cheek (with plain water) before moving on to his teeth- may also loosen your toddler up a bit.
- Check each other. When he’s done his brushing, have him open his mouth so you can check to be sure he got all the visible bits of food. When you’ve done your share, allow him to check your work in the mirror. You can also have him check after you’ve brushed your own teeth.