Ramona and the Great Toddler Toothbrushing Wars

Excuse me while I indulge in some blogging that is really only going to be of interest to anyone who has primary caregiving duty for a teeny, tiny person. But I dare to believe that to those people this might actually be a worthwhile read.

See, parenting is one of the very few cases where anecdotal evidence can actually be helpful. Of course, only to a point – you have to then apply what you’ve learned to your own child, who is both exactly the same as and completely different from every other child, but sometimes just knowing another parent was in the same leaky, rickety boat and managed (even temporarily) to shift to a shiny new seaworthy dinghy is all you need to feel a lot better. So here goes.

Having politely complied with having her teeth brushed since they first started coming through, around 11 months, it wasn’t until around 22 months that any issues with toothbrushing flared up. First it was wanting to do it herself, but then not wanting to do it. Then it was complaining that her gums hurt (understandable; she’s not got all those teeth yet). Then “my tongue hurts!” and refusing to even do the bit of the process she’d always approached with some gusto: eating the toothpaste. Some nights she’d be okay, some not, and it gradually got worse.

For a while we ended up basically having to brush by force, which made me feel like a rotten, rotten parent who was creating more fear around toothbrushing instead of less. I reached my limit on about the third occasion on which I had to resort to this, when afterwards she sniffled at me that “I cried and said no but Mummy brushed my teeth.” The words sent absolute shivers down my spine – what the Hell was I teaching her?  Things were going to change, starting the next night.

I called out for advice on Twitter, and got the following recommendations:

  • Nicer tasting toothpaste (I suspected myself this might help – perhaps the Colgate Milk Teeth was just too minty and was burning her tongue? I find the same with some grown-up toothpastes).
  • A reward chart (too young?)
  • Telling her she wouldn’t ever be allowed sugary things to eat or drink again (I don’t think she has the concept of consequences that aren’t absolutely immediate down well enough for this one; also, it’s impractical as I’m not the only one who feeds her).
  • Funny songs / rituals around the toothbrushing – brushing toys’ teeth (she also brushes their eyes, noses and ears…), applying toothpaste herself etc.

In the end, I went for a combination of the first and last. Ashley brought home some Cars-themed “fruit punch” flavoured toothpaste which, to my mint-honed gnashers, tastes absolutely vile and sickly, and smells it too. Ramona squeezed a little on her finger and made me taste it first (small empress that she is), and then hesitantly popped some in her mouth while I made effusive yummy noises.

“Mmmm, yummy,” I prompted.

“Mmmm, yucky,” she replied.

Still, curiosity had got the better of her – particularly as the toothpaste is a deep blue instead of boring white – and she kept sampling it until we had to risk a big, waily tantrum taking it away.

The next couple of nights were a bit hairy, as she much preferred applying the toothpaste to her finger than her toothbrush, but we worked out a deal whereby if she brushed her teeth thoroughly herself using the brush, her reward could be a small glob of toothpaste on her finger as a treat to munch on. She started requesting that I sing one of her flavour-of-the-month songs at the same time, and that’s become part of the ritual too: “Mummy will sing X while you brush your teeth… oh, good brushing! Now you can have a bit on your finger.”

To try and cement this progress and add more fun to proceedings, I treated her to a new toothbrush today after a visit to the Disney Store (during which I was very proud to note she behaved impeccably). Near bedtime I produced the surprise from my bag and she carefully examined her new Mickey brush, which flashes a red light for two minutes to aid brushing. She’s still a bit small for that feature to be anything but a fun game, but she carried on intermittently chewing the brush / brushing her teeth right through all our bedtime lullabies, only surrendering the brush to actually get into bed.

I’m keeping my fingers tentatively crossed that a combination of a more palatable paste and creating more fun around the brushing itself has done the trick… let’s wait and see.

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