You know it’s important to brush your toddler’s teeth, but try telling that to a willful toddler. Early brushing lays the groundwork for a lifetime of good hygiene, but it can be exasperating because many toddlers and even infants put up a fight when the toothbrush comes out. In fact, while dental professionals recommend brushing a child’s teeth twice a day, researchers found that only 55 percent of parents actually were able to do accomplish it.

And no, you can’t skip brushing just because “they’re baby teeth that are going to fall out anyway.”

To make brushing more successful and to begin to teach those all-important oral hygiene habits, here are a few tips:

  • Make brushing fun. Sing songs about brushing, make up friendly games, encourage a creative way of spitting of toothpaste, and assist with your child’s active participation in helping with every stage.
  • Keep a “reward board with stickers or stars on every day your child cooperates and successfully brushes. Don’t give sweets as a reward!
  • Start early. As soon as that first tooth appears, start gently brushing, even if it’s just with water. This will get your little one used to the act.
  • Choose a soft brush with a small head that easily fits in your child’s mouth. Let your child pick out their own brush with a special design or character on it.
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride beginning when teeth erupt. Younger kids usually can’t spit well, so use a small smear (the size of one grain of rice) as swallowing fluoride can cause an upset stomach.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of the toothpaste once the child can rinse and spit, usually after age 3.
  • Assist your child with brushing since most kids cannot effectively brush their teeth on their own. You can brush first, and then let your child try it.
  • Begin flossing when at least two teeth begin to touch.
  • Start dental visits by your child’s first birthday.
  • Be on the lookout for any signs of tooth decay, such as brown or white spots or pits on the teeth. If you notice any problems, take your child to the dentist immediately.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, May 2020


  • While some toddlers put up a fight over brushing, parents can make it fun by using songs, games and stickers during the process.
  • Starting to brush when your child’s first tooth emerges will get your child used to it.
  • Unless directed by your dentist, don’t use toothpaste with fluoride until your child is at least two years old.
  • Assist your child with the task since most kids cannot effectively brush their teeth


  1. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Guideline on Infant Oral Health Care.
  2. American Dental Association. Dental Care Tips for Mom and Baby.


  1. Another thought: Funny songs really are great while brushing!

  2. Great advice!

  3. We sing “Dora Dora Dora the toothbrusher”. My son loves it, and will close his mouth if I stop singing. I also lay him across my lap to brush his teeth. I can see much better that way.

    1. Songs are a great way to teach children. My son had a singing toothbrush as a toddler to teach him how long to brush.

  4. Good tips. My kids think it is funny that I “sit on them” and brush their teeth every night. They both love toothpaste. I called poison control after my eldest ate a bunch of my toothpaste good news is won’t hurt them just give them upset tummy so they said to have him drink lots of milk to help.


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