8 tricks for getting a toddler to clean their teeth

Some toddlers are angels and give their parents no grief but the majority play up from time to time – and it’s often around the daily routine. If you’re finding it hard to get a toddler to clean their teeth, here are 8 clever tricks, shared by readers of The Early Hour…

A few months ago, my two-year-old began refusing to clean her teeth. She’d either throw her toothbrush on the floor, do a millisecond sweep of her mouth or run away and bury her head in a bed/ sofa/ wall so that I couldn’t access her mouth. I decided to shun ‘gentle parenting’ and instead shoved my hand in her mouth, force-cleaning her teeth.

But I felt guilty and it wasn’t sustainable so we came up with the idea of playing a ‘toothbrushing song’. Rich got Mahna Mahna (sung by The Muppets) up on his iPhone, and we told her that while she watched the video we’d clean her teeth.

She immediately opened her mouth wide and let us do it for three minutes – the duration of the song. When we were away last week, I didn’t have my phone on me so just sang a silly song instead – and that worked too.

With around 30% of parents finding there is some resistance to teeth-cleaning from their kids – rating it more difficult than getting them to wash or dress – it seems we’re not the only ones searching for tricks. So for other parents in the same boat, looking for ways to get a toddler to clean their teeth, here are 8 tried and tested tricks from readers of The Early Hour…

8 Tricks for Getting a Toddler to Clean Their Teeth


  • Start them early. I was laughed at by my husband for buying a mini toothbrush when our daughter’s first tooth had just broken through. But that one tooth needs to be taken care of. And, of course, the earlier you start – the sooner they’ll get used to it.
  • Do it together. Telling your kid to clean their teeth, alone, every morning and evening is a bit of a big ask. After all, it can be quite a boring activity. So make sure you clean your teeth with them – this way, you’ll be showing them how it’s done, and that everyone has to do it; not just them.
  • Use a ‘toothbrushing song’. Preferably one they haven’t heard of so it becomes a novelty every time they clean their teeth and the song/ video comes on. This one worked for us (it’s had 82m views – maybe other parents are using it too)…
  • Do a toothbrushing dance. @madlachrymaesays, one of our Instagram friends, says:

“During the holidays it was a fight – back home strangely he happily brushes! To make it more fun and last longer I dance, stopping each time he stops, starting again when he does etc…”

  • Scare them into cleaning their teeth. @nicole_pj (another Instagram pal) says:

“Luckily mine watched an episode of Messy goes to Okido where a giant had sore teeth because he didn’t brush them and monsters moved in. Reminding her of this seems to help…”

  • Go to the dentist. The dentist will explain the implications of not cleaning your teeth and make it all a bit more official, rather than just another thing mum and dad are nagging about. Sometimes a little science lesson can go a long way…
  •  Turn it into a game. Remind them of everything they’ve had to eat that day and as you brush, tell them what you’re brushing away. So:

“Let’s get that porridge out of the back of your mouth, and the snack bar you had in the park. Then we’ll brush away all the pasta and cheese you had for lunch. Now we need to remove all the dinner you had – broccoli, potatoes…” etc.

Another idea (from @arthur_eats on Instagram):

“Arthur isn’t always fussed but when he is, we play a game where I’ve lost every single thing in his mouth, i.e. the remains of everything he’s eaten that day. He’s always amazed at what I can find… but obviously I just know what he’s had because I fed him! Works every time.”

  • Let them brush your teeth. Tell them that if they let you brush their teeth properly, they can have a go at brushing mummy or daddy’s teeth afterwards. It will make them feel grown-up and responsible.

Do you have any other ideas for how to get a toddler to clean their teeth? If so, let us know in the comment section below… we’re all ears.