Oral Traditions: Brushing a Toddler’s Teeth in 4 Easy Steps

Music may soothe the savage beast, but humor and distraction are more effective in getting the beast to do what you want. I may not do many things well, but I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my toddler laughing and sidetracked in order to keep him safe and moving along in life. I found very early on that “Because Daddy said so” don’t mean squat.

One of the most consistent struggles has been teaching JJ to brush his teeth. Sure, it’s easy enough to get him to turn the water on (and proceed to drench himself and the entire bathroom) or to get the toothbrush in his mouth (and then suck every ounce of toothpaste off it). But to get him to use the brush for its intended purpose, I turned to two of JJ’s favorite things: zoo animals and YouTube.

I used to hold my son in my lap while brushing his teeth — but he got older and wanted to stand on his stool and hold the brush himself, and I lost control of the situation. I needed to regain control, but in a non-confrontational way — so I came up with a routine… Hint: each step should be announced with much fervor and glee:


Open mouth wide and brush the tops/bottoms of all your teeth.


Gigantic closed mouth smile, showing off those pearly chompers, then scrub back and forth to get the outsides clean.


Stick your tongue waaaay out for a good scrubbing.


Sometimes messy — but obviously his favorite — so never gets skipped.

It was an immediate success, so the next morning I pulled together some visual aids (EDUCATIONAL BONUS!) from YouTube to further bring the point home. I’m sure there are better videos out there, but these (below) worked just fine for us and were relatively easy to find.

Hippo Mouth!

Alligator Teeth!

Giraffe Tongue!

We also got this wonderful firsthand experience on our trip to Italy:

How to Brush a Todller's Teeth
JJ and his cousin feed a giraffe a piece of taralli through the car window.

Elephant Spit!

On the rare occasion humor and distraction fail to work, fear is a good backup motivator. If we ever have trouble with JJ at teeth-brushing time, we just ask “You don’t wanna have Joker teeth, do you?!?”

What tactics have helped you in the art of tooth brushing? Happy Hygiene!

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