Dental hygiene for the desperate

Have we ever talked about what it’s like to brush my toddler’s teeth? No? Well, take a seat and get ready – it’s going to be a rough ride.

Soul-crushing defeat. Mind-numbing exhaustion. Blinding rage. Burning frustration. Maybe I’m exaggerating just a teensy little bit, but seriously – brushing Bean’s teeth is hard. I approach this necessary process with dread, every day, twice a day. (To those parents who brush their kids’ teeth three times a day, I say congratulations to you. Please tell me your secrets. It’s a mild sedative, right?.)

Here’s how a typical pre-bed tooth-brushing encounter might play out.

“Time to brush teeth, Bean. Would you like Mummy or Daddy to brush your teeth tonight?”



At this point, Bean must run to the dark bathroom, climb up onto the toilet lid and from there onto the counter, where he stands up and edges across and in front of the sink to reach the light switch. I can stand behind him to make sure he doesn’t fall, but under no circumstances am I to help him up to the counter or turn on the light myself.

“Up way or down way?”

“Up way.”

He flicks the light switch on and off a few times. “Up way, down way, up way, down way…”

“Please don’t play with that. Leave it up.”

“Okay. Just one more time. Okay. I finished.”

First battle done.

“Okay, I’ve got the toothbrush. Open up!”

“Just let me do one thing.”

This begins a process in which Bean tries to pick up each and every item off of the counter-top shelf in our storage-limited bathroom. (We brush teeth in our tiny ensuite because the main bathroom is next to Monkey’s bedroom and waking the baby during this process would just be the icing on a terrible, terrible cake.)

“What’s this Mummy?”

“That’s lotion. Please put it down. Okay, open your mouth!”

“I hold it?”

“Um, okay, you can hold it while I brush your teeth. Open up! Oh, wait – don’t squeeze it… maybe I’ll just take that.”

We spend the next five minutes or so negotiating over what Bean can hold and how many times he can open up the medicine cabinet to count what’s inside (there are eleven-teen things, just so you know.) I know, you’re not supposed to negotiate with a terrorist, but I live with that tiny terrorist. I don’t rule with an iron fist, so negotiation is a necessity. A time-consuming, mind-bending necessity.

At this point, my forced cheerfulness is cracking, my patience is wearing thin, and I can see in the mirror that my eyes have taken on the wide-open unblinking brightness of a person who’s about to lose it.

“Open your mouth, wide like a crocodile! Like a crocodile that’s about to eat a huge fish! Yes, that’s right, just let me… No, wait, don’t bite down.”

“But I a crocodile.”

“Yes, but a crocodile before he bites the fish.”

“Just let me do one thing.”

The last shred of my patience is now gone (along with my dignity) and I pull out the time-tested one-two-three.

“Bean, we can brush your teeth up on the counter or I can hold you on my lap. I’m going to count to three and if you don’t open your mouth to let me brush, we’re doing this on my lap. One… two…”

“Daddy! I want Daddy to do it! Daaadddyyy!”

Now, some nights at this point I tap out. “Okay, just a sec, I’ll go get Daddy.” And to my husband, “So sorry, I tried. He just wants you.” Oh darn.

But some nights Daddy isn’t home. Swallowing my frustration, I try one more trick. God, I hope the neighbours can’t hear this through our single-pane windows.

“What’s that I hear? Something’s calling! Its… the tomato bugs! The tomatoes from dinner! What are they saying?!”

Bean is intrigued. “What, Mummy?”

“They’re saying… ‘Don’t brush us, we want to live in Bean’s teeth forever and turn them all yucky.’ But wait, there’s more. I hear the milk bugs! ‘Brush us, brush us! We want Bean’s teeth to be clean and healthy!'”

Bean opens his mouth and lets me brush. All the while, I act out a frantic, epic battle between the tomato bugs, the milk bugs, and the toothbrush. Finally, it’s time to spit and rinse.

“I don’t want to spit the bugs! I love them!”

“But you need to spit out the toothpaste or it’s not good for your tummy.”

More negotiation, during which Bean most definitely swallows the toothpaste.

He reluctantly takes some sips of water and spits, even though the toothpaste is long gone.

“What the bugs say now, Mummy?”

“Um, let’s see… the milk bugs say ‘Bye Bean, we’ll see you tomorrow!’ and the tomato bugs say ‘We’ll get you next time… you’ll never take us aliiiiiivvvee!'”

“Okay. Bye bugs, I love you!”

Yup. Bye bugs. I love you too.


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