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Toddlers are great at doing lots of things: learning the curse words you accidentally let slip while sitting in traffic, turning their mashed potatoes into an abstract painting on the dining room ceiling, making your heart melt when they look deep into your soul and smile at you in just that specific way. But when it comes to following directions fully and consistently, hey, they may have a little bit of growing up to do. If you’re a parent who’s running into issues around toothbrushing time – and specifically having challenges with getting your young tot to spit out paste – we see you, and we’re here for you. These are some strategies for helping your toddler to sign on to the “better out than in” philosophy. So roll up your sleeves, and make sure you’re wearing something that doesn’t stain easily.
Perhaps the most straightforward way to get your toddler to stop swallowing paste is to appeal to their blossoming sense of rationality and reason. Explain to them that much like chewing gum (something they may have by this point seen their “older” friends doing and be interested in themselves), toothpaste is a substance that’s made to be spit out after usage and not swallowed. If they aren’t fully convinced by this iron-clad line of logic, it’s time to move on to phase two: gamify the process in a way where their inherent desire for fun outstrips their passion for eating toothpaste.
Make the process of spitting toothpaste out after brushing a joyful task that will be looked forward to and completed enthusiastically: give them a target to aim at. Turning brushing time into target practice can be as easy as calling attention to the middle of the drain and telling them to hit it. If you want to get fancy, place a colorful plastic ring or other object in the bottom of the sink and encourage them to center it in their crosshairs. Additional incentives – such as assigning a point total for direct hits or giving them a tangible reward afterwards – can be added to the process at your discretion. If they spit out their paste and potentially giggle afterwards, you’ll know you’ve done something right.
Like many other aspects of childhood development, all kids pick up brushing and spitting technique at different rates – so don’t stress. Know that this is just one of many things that they need your support, patience and consistency on. For special needs youngsters and those who have a particularly hard time with internalizing the need to “externalize” toothpaste, you may want to consider using a fluoride-free paste. This is because if swallowed, fluoride-free toothpastes don’t present many of the safety issues that can come with swallowing fluoride pastes. Until you have an awesome spitter, remember to always supervise brushtime and use only the paste amount necessary for brushing.
All you’ve got to do is take a deep breath, put on your friendliest face, and choose a paste with friendly ingredients. You’ve got this, and your little “spitting image” will soon be making you proud.
about the author
Lawrence Fung is a dentist, entrepreneur, and one of our expert contributors here on the hello blog. After earning his DDS at the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry, Lawrence served as a General Dentist in the US Navy for four years. Since then, he’s mixed his dental credentials with his love for startups by founding SiliconBeach.Dental, a new breed of dental clinic in LA that leverages tech to make high-quality care more accessible and friendlier than ever before. When he’s not challenging the dental status quo, Lawrence reps his beloved Trojans, crushes hotdog-eating contests, and loves yodeling.
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