Toddler Tooth Brushing

Toddler Tooth Brushing

“SAY AHHH! The 4 AHHH’s (R’s) of Toddler Tooth Brushing”

If you are looking for tips on how to keep your child’s teeth healthy, here’s the good news – your child NEVER needs to know the pain, embarrassment or health problems associated with having “bad teeth”.  Dental decay is 100% preventable!  Woohoo!  With a few simple tricks, your child can have a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime.

 The bad news though – there is no easy way to “make” a child brush their teeth.  Just like most parts of parenting a toddler, in order for your child’s oral health care routine to be successful, it needs to be introduced early with consistency, in a gentle and flexible manner.  In other words, it needs to be FUN!

 Anne the Tooth Fairy says “The four AHHH’s (or in fact R’s) of Toddler tooth brushing are: ROUTINE, RITUAL, RESPECT and RELAXATION”.

 Hi Anne the ‘Tooth Fairy’, you’re a Dental Therapist… What does that mean?

“A Dental Therapist is trained to provide general dentistry for children. We provide dental treatment in a child friendly way to promote positive, lifelong relationships with dental professionals. We have a focus on providing knowledge and skills to families and we encourage food and oral hygiene habits which will prevent dental disease for their children.”

 Yay!  We love developing positive relationships with health professionals!  When should a child have their first dental visit?

“Take your child for a dental check with your family Dentist, Dental Therapist or Oral Health Therapist from their first birthday. This is important for early detection of dental disease and to establish a good routine.  It’s great if they can have the check completed while sitting on your knee.”

 Awesome! When should you actually start to brush a child’s teeth?

You can start wiping over your baby’s gums with a damp cloth on your finger even before they have teeth!  Start cleaning their teeth (after feeding) as soon as they appear in your child’s mouth. Introduce baby toothbrushes, finger brushes, or use a very small soft toothbrush from the start. Bristles can be softened with warm water. As your child gets older, gradually introduce self-brushing (allowing young children to have their own brush to use).  Ensure you brush first, THEN they brush.  Children do not have the manual dexterity to brush their own teeth effectively until they are around 8 years of age at the earliest, and need to have adult supervision until parents are satisfied that they can brush thoroughly enough on their own.

 Okay, so it is important to start these healthy habits early and keep helping children to brush for a long time?

Yes!  Most importantly, make it more about a fun, gentle, happy time where your child is given undivided attention. Maybe involve rhymes or songs that the children enjoy. The goal is to develop a positive habit that children look forward to rather than perfectly clean teeth at this stage.

Sounds great, but what if my toddler suddenly decides that they DON’T WANT TO!?

There are many tips and tricks appropriate for different age groups which help with tooth cleaning. Remember, it is NORMAL for children to go through stages where cooperation varies, so avoid the battle that results from forceful restraint of children.

Remember: The goal is to develop a positive habit that children look forward to rather than perfectly clean teeth at this stage.

Is this where “SAY AHHH” comes in?

Yes, by following the four R’s (ROUTINE, RITUAL, RESPECT and RELAXATION) you aim to create an experience that children look forward to.  

ROUTINE:  Find a time that works for you and stick to it. Ensure that children see you regularly brush your teeth, they will likely want to do what you are doing and see it as part of your family’s routine.

 RITUAL:  Find something that your child enjoys and make it part of the tooth bushing experience.

You could count each tooth as you brush it, play the same song each tooth brushing session, play a game of peekaboo before and after, sing a favourite song or say a funny rhyme.  Make brushing your teeth FUN – don’t be afraid to get a bit silly.  Your child will LOVE having your undivided attention.

RELAXATION:  Everyone needs to feel calm, and relaxed.  If you are tense or rushed while brushing it will be unpleasant for the child and invites resistance.  If anyone in the equation is not enjoying the process, stop and try again later.  

Remember: The goal is to develop a positive habit that children look forward to rather than perfectly clean teeth at this stage.

RESPECT:  Talk to your child about what you are doing.  Allow your child to control the interaction. If they are resisting, or asking you to stop, listen and respect their rights!  Have a break then try again in a different way or leave it until tomorrow.

(TIP: Brush ACROSS back teeth from side of mouth, never push the brush straight back.  If your child starts gagging, stop brushing. Change the angle of the brush, teach them to take deep breaths through the nose while you are brushing. Gagging can become a habit which makes brushing difficult.  It can be controlled when the focus is changed to nose breathing and the child is distracted.)



IN THE MIRROR: Try standing behind the child while you both look in the mirror.  Relax your shoulders and brushing hand.  Make some funny faces, stick your tongue out!  How wide can you open your mouth?  Can you see the teeth up the back?  Tell your child that they can have a go at brushing once you have had a turn.

COUCH TIME:  It can be fun for a toddler/ young child to lay their head on your lap while you are relaxed on the couch.  Maybe brushing teeth becomes part of your nightly couch-time?  Perhaps you can read a tooth brushing book together.

KNEE TO KNEE: If you are lucky enough to routinely have another adult or older sibling around, the knee-to-knee technique is a GREAT way to spend some quality family time AND achieve clean teeth!  This is the way your child’s first dental checkup will more than likely happen too!  Check out the HOW TO video here: 

At Happy Feet Fitness, we are the experts in making children smile and we are passionate about ensuring children and families are empowered with the knowledge to keep those smiles for life.

Our Happy Feet Fitness ‘Hygiene’ themed class (which focuses on oral health) and in fact EVERY one of our 30+ Happy Feet Fitness classes are built on a philosophy similar to “The Four AHHH’s”.  Each of our themed classes have positive health messages as well as social and emotional benefits for our little Happy Feeters too.  We are proud of the positive influence we have on these happy and healthy children.

If you’d like to enrol your child in the Happy Feet program or find out more about Happy Feet Fitness, please get in touch via