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Refusing to Brush Teeth

Toddler Wars: Toothbrushing

By Amalah

Haha, you asked for it, Amy! No, really. Been reading (and commenting) on your blog since long before Ezra. Thank you for the 40 week pregnancy column, BTW, which kept me saner than I would otherwise have been throughout Little Miss Kickboxer’s residence in my uterus.

Speaking of the one who is almost Ezra’s age …

Toothbrushing. Drama or happiness with flowers? A couple of weeks ago, Little Miss Kickboxer decided that toothbrushing wasn’t for her any more. Ever. Where she used to sit on our bathroom counter and dutifully do her “eeeeee” and “aaaaaaa” while holding on to her two play toothbrushes as I cleaned her teeth with a third one (and toddler toothpaste), there is now screaming and NONONONONOALLDUNNNNNN! and running away and always impending mayhem. I’ve gone as far as using pill-the-cat mechanisms, meaning wrapping her into a towel and brushing her teeth while she screams and cries, but all that screaming and crying really offends the cat’s delicate sensibilities.

Also, Little Miss Kickboxer doesn’t think that tooth monkeys should be counted nor brushed away, and neither should little bacteria because in our house, we apparently honor all living things.

How did you train Noah and Ezra to allow toothbrushing?



So first of, Noah. Has kind of a THING about his mouth. Hypersensitive. Super-defensive. He always, always hated toothbrushing. I would say we experienced toothbrushing drama from about 15 months old until…I dunno, last week? No, not quite that bad, but he fought us with every bone in his thrashy (and surprisingly strong) body for at least a couple years. But his THING was one of his sensory THINGS, so there really wasn’t much for us to do other than attempt to amuse him with toothbrushing-timers and silly toothbrushing-songs and licensed-character toothbrushes that lit up or sang songs…right before one of us held him down while the other brushed his teeth against his will. We did oral motor therapy to build up his tolerance for sensory input in his mouth, sang a Yo Gabba Gabba! song about tiny ugly germs about five bajillion nights in a row, and eventually he started brushing his own teeth with not quite as much sturm und drang about it. Now, at five, he gets one shot at doing it himself but is warned if Mommy sees more sucking-on-the-toothbrush than actual brushing, Mommy is going to do it for him. That usually prompts a quick return to proper brushing form, though sometimes yes: I still do it for him. Because I am STILL BIGGER THAN HE IS.

Now Ezra, once upon a time, LOVED getting his teeth brushed. Because Noah brushed his teeth! And Mommy and Daddy brushed their teeth! Brushing your teeth must be AWESOME! He would, like your daughter, obediently open up and let us brush his mouthful of chompers and then even mimic the motions by himself surprisingly well. We once again mentioned the fact that if Ezra had been our first and/or only child, we’d be two of the smuggest, jerkiest parents alive because he just made it all so EASY.

Then about a week ago, he changed his mind abruptly about this whole “dental care” nonsense. Abruptly and WITH A VENGEANCE. He started running down the hall and slamming doors when he saw me loading up the toothpaste. He started throwing the toothbrush on the ground, or AT BEST, halfheartedly giving it a bite or two…before throwing it on the ground. One night I tried brushing his teeth for him while he just stood there, and he jerked his head back so violently that he lost his balance, fell backwards…and whacked his head on the bathroom door hinge, leaving a nice little black-and-blue divot on his skull and shaving multiple years off my life.

All of this is to say: Yeah. I don’t exactly have all the solutions here, but am posting your question anyway in hope that someone else does, and will post it in the comments.

We recently switched Ezra to a battery-powered toothbrush like his big brothers, and while he enjoys the novelty of it, he still isn’t capable of really brushing his teeth himself, which I guess is what he wants. We get our toothbrushes out and demonstrate how to do it and sometimes he’ll mimic the motions. We let him “play” with a toothbrush at other times so he can “practice” and it’s “fun” and we can be all DJ-Lance-like with the “YAY DENTAL HYGIENE IS AWESOME!”

But when push comes to shove at bedtime, when it’s just too important that we really, really brush his teeth, we eventually hit a point where we simply have to drop the games and do it for him, no matter how much he yowls about it. He’ll be seeing the pediatric dentist soon and I hope the experience will help rather than like, thoroughly traumatize him further. In the meantime, I like to tell myself it’s simply a toddler rite of passage and he’ll eventually outgrow it, like Noah did. Kind of. A little bit. Argh.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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