One of the topics that comes up the most in parenting workshops and support groups is how to help your child brush their teeth. It’s a key one because it’s a daily occurrence and can be such a battle ground. It also touches on some of those bigger issues; what is our role as parents? Should we prioritise health over autonomy? It also requires us to be open minded; is the status quo about cleaning your teeth twice a day golden, or is it questionable? Is the tension a result of my child’s resistance… or mine? And, it requires us to recognise that there is no perfect template for navigating this: some families will get away with rarely cleaning their teeth, others will have an incredibly healthy diet and good dental practices and still experience decay.

Before we crack on, there are three wee things I want to mention.

Firstly, check in with yourself. So often parents can bring some unspoken baggage to a situation that their kids pick up. Children are intuitive and are able to pick up the smallest fizz of tension, and often their behaviour is sparked by unconscious feelings within the adults present. If there were incidences of aggression around teeth cleaning for you, i.e, being held down while someone brushed your teeth, it’s possible that you are bringing some of those unresolved feelings into the present moment. If you think this might be the case take some time to reflect on what was going on for you. Picture yourself as a child, and re-imagine a different scenario, of what you wished had happened to you with teeth cleaning. Make a note of all the feelings coming up for you. Find a mantra that you might hold to. I am an autonomous, strong person. I am loved. I am calm.  Give yourself some moments for deep breathing and calm before approaching your child with the toothbrush. If you want to do some deeper work on this I *highly* recommend going on a guided Inner Child Journey- more here.

Secondly, acknowledge that there might be something bigger going on for your child. It might seem irrational that they don’t want to brush their teeth, but it might be very rational. A dentist once told me that one single knock to the gums by walking round with a toothbrush in their mouth can cause a body memory that means they associate the sight of the tooth brush with pain. So, don’t let your little kids run around with a toothbrush in their mouth! And also, recognise that it might be a deep and authentic reason causing their rejection of the tooth brush, so go gentle. Some kids have sensory issues too, they can be highly sensitive to the feel of the tooth brush or tooth paste, so be prepared to try different things.

Thirdly, I hope none of these ideas seem flippant. I have been through the coalface with one of my children who had the double whammy of incredibly weak teeth and extreme tooth brush resistance. It got to the stage where we were asking the question; are we prepared to override her body autonomy in order to promote healthy teeth? On one hand our role as a parent is to keep them safe and healthy, and on the other hand our role as a parent is to help them understand that no one gets to do anything to their bodies that they don’t want to be done – a critical, life-long lesson. It’s a very intense place to be and I extend much love and empathy to anyone in that place, both when it comes to dental hygiene and other health issues. The only thing that moved us on was bringing much patience and much, much play into the situation. So I hope the following helps.


Here are some ideas, starting from the most simple to the more complex!

1- Toothbrushing isn’t the be all and end all of dental hygiene.  If we have a more complete picture of this then the actual tooth brushing becomes far less pressured.  For example, it takes 30 minutes for the mouth’s microbial environment to get back to optimum health after being washed out with sugary or acidic foods. So if your kids are going to have a bunch of sweets, talk with them about having them in one go rather than scattered throughout the weekend – otherwise they’ll possibly spend whole days in a state where their teeth are highly vulnerable to decay. When they do have lollies or sticky food like dried fruit, talk with them about chasing it with water or cheese (cheese has a sort of suction effect where it pulls the sticky foods out of the teeth.)

Bring extra products into your home like iflora oral care tooth mints which somewhat replace the healthy bacteria of our mouths and xylotil sweets which have a cleaning effect.

2- If you don’t already, model teeth cleaning. From when they are tiny make teeth cleaning part of the culture of your home, for many kids this will mean they take naturally to brushing their teeth, it’s just the thing we all do before we go to bed!

3- Try a bunch of different tooth brushes. The size, bristles, shape of the toothbrush could be a problem for your child. So see if a new one might make the difference. Get your child to pick their own.

There are chewable toothbrushes. And weird shaped silicon ones. And Myo Munchees. Flashing and singing ones. And many parents report that using a child’s electric toothbrush was the thing that made a big difference for teeth brushing.

4- Try different tooth pastes. Toothpaste is SUCH a personal thing! Ask your child to help choose their own toothpaste.

5- Give your child heaps of chance to gain control in other areas of her life. Tooth bushing might be the place where all her feelings of powerlessness become concentrated. Where else can you give her lots of autonomy? Can you go to places for the whole afternoon where she is free to move her body exactly as she wishes? Can they choose all their own clothes? Their own lunch?

6- Use play a way for her to process any lack of powerlessness. Play is a vital way that children address some of the bigger things going on for them. Marion Rose, of Attachment Play says

Power-reversal games help children release feelings around powerlessness and lack of choice.  Even if we are aiming to be conscious parents, and give our children lots of choice, most children do experience feelings around not having choice.  In these games, we reverse roles, so that we become the one who is less powerful, smaller, and less able.  So, for example, perhaps our two-year-old is on a swing, and every time she comes forward, we pretend that she has knocked us over, and make a big exaggerated collapsing backwards motion.  And then we might say something like, “you’re not going to do that again, are you?” with a fun smile on our face, and act surprised when it happens again.  When she laughs delightedly, we know that she is not only feeling connected and having fun, she is also feeling powerful and releasing feelings around not being powerful in the past.

The next half of this list is all about introducing FUN and PLAY into the arena of teeth cleaning. These might seem exhausting, but they will save you bags of time and the sheer weariness of battling with your kid. PLUS, it switches teeth cleaning from being arduous to being a point of connection for you and your child.  If you can change your mindset from “uggghh, I have to clean their teeth” to “Ohhh, teethcleaning time – an extra bit in the day where I get to connect with my child through their language of play!” this is going to be the most significant gamechanger.

7- Have them clean your teeth while you clean their teeth.

8- Before cleaning their teeth clean a few other bits of their body, like behind their ear, their tummy button. They’ll squeal and say “my TEETH mama!”

9-  Silly voices – Use a silly voice to try and guess all the different food they have eaten that day as you brush it out. Thrown in some gross ones. “Ew I think I’m brushing out a boogah!!”

10- Use a silly voice to try and find the different characters of germs hiding in their mouth. Use your ventriloquist skills to have the germs speak back. We have Barry who is a northerner with a deep accent that gets higher as gets more and more scared of being chased down by the toothbrush. Honestly, he’s hilar!

11- Have a puppet do it! We used a puppet for a while – so the little fox actually cleaned their teeth some days.

12- We’d line up all their teddies and dollies and do all of their teeth too, before getting to our kids teeth.

13- Role play as dentists. You might even have a wig to put on each evening. Have them lie down while you do all sorts of absurd things to their teeth while you brush.

14- Brush your teeth with Elmo! Or use another teeth brushing song. Or simply set the timer on the phone for two minutes. Some kids just really respond when the phone buzzes!

15- Take a break. If you feel able to (it’s not a critical situation) taking a break for a couple of days can disempower the situation, take the tension out of it. You could have some tooth wipes to use on the days when your child absolutely refuses.


Being an ally to your child through these everyday activities is an investment in your relationship and in the future of the world! Raising children with connection and empathy at the very heart of all you has a crucial role to play in building a peaceful and truly respectful world. Be encouraged to bring in more patience and play, and to find nourishment and support in your VERY important (world-changing!) role as parent.

This article was written with the help of the Parent Allies Support Group who are a wealth of creative knowledge when it comes to practical parenting solutions. All people trying to be allies to their children are invited, but please answer the question, otherwise we don’t see your request.

Thank you for reading! If this is helpful, please do share.


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