Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Toddler Tooth Brushing – La Cucaracha style

What has this got to do with adoption?

Simple, I try to minimise tears and force in everything I do.

We all know adopted children start for a position of grave and fundamental loss. They don’t need more punishment, rejection and hurt, if we can possibly avoid it.

So I try very hard to do everything a gentle and respectful way.

Tooth brushing is an area that could so easily have turned into daily arguments. And I can’t just go ‘oh well, it doesn’t matter.’ Here I do have to follow through (most nights anyway).

I know only of two ways of brush a toddler’s teeth: with tears and brute force or without. The latter being preferable, but achievable only if only a smithereen of pressure is applied and the toddler sets the tempo. It has taken us 18 months to get there, and the journey wasn't a straight line, but we now have a format that seems to work for us. And yes it involves singing.

La Cucara-cha, La Cucara-cha …

That’s the song we brush our teeth to. Every night.

The tooth brushing comes at a very specific point of the night-time routine. Certain things can be cut out from the routine, like the bath itself if we are running late, but the general arch of the routine has to stay in the same order for the night-time magic to work. Tooth brushing has its place in this order. It comes between the bath itself and creaming up. Just after being held as a baby for little while, all cocooned and wrapped up tightly in a warm towel. Then we slowly move to the sink, a toothbrush is chosen amongst several and a dollop of paste administered, by either of us.

All the while we sing La Cucaracha, and perhaps doing a little dance or wiggle to it too.

I don't like arguing over the issue, so I always let Digger know that I have all the time in the world, but that I will finish off. I tried letting him do it completely on his own, thinking in time he would get better, and that it didn’t matter too much – everything not to upset the little man! Especially in the beginning. But I soon noticed his milky white teeth were getting a little yellow. Yuk. So, now I insist at least that once a day, after the bath.

Digger usually starts off himself, and now even brushes rhythmically to La Cucaracha. He is definitely getting better at brushing. In the morning, we let him do it himself, when we all do it together. It can take 10 mins for him to be ready for me to finish it, or 1min. Overtime this window has gotten shorter. He knows I mean business.

We check and say ‘hallo tooth’ to each and every one of them. Or the shorter version ‘Hallo, teeth’. ‘Say aaaa’ or some other open sound to check the back teeth is necessary. I hold the brush like a I would a pencil, so as not to ram it in his little mouth. The ‘tiger’ grin, that is clenched and bared teeth, is also becoming a true ritual. Roaring goes well with it too. It gets all the front teeth in one go, and loads of foam going too. Digger does appreciated that I can produce quite a lot more foam than he can. You see, he loves tooth paste. I remember loving the stuff myself…I think he could eat a whole tube of it if we let him. But I know a child, who’s teeth rotted, as he eat his way through vast quantities of it. We keep the tooth paste as a treat, twice a day. Only ever served on a brush, and accompanied by brushing.

Tooth brushing toddler tempo is another area where slowing down and turning up the rhythm and multisensory approach is definitely the quicker way. Especially if performed over time.
Then it really gets quicker.

La Cucara-cha, La Cucara-cha ….

I’d love to hear other people ideas on this subject.

Here’s a link to the Gispy King version for the extra keen, or those, like me, who do not necessarily remember titles of songs, but more the melody: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VILr1xH3io
The Things We Do


  1. I so get what you are writing about. Our tooth brushing with our 3 yr old varies from fine to an all-in wrestling bout. But twice a day remains a non-negotiable for us. As with you, for us music has always been the solution.

    For us it is a rousing chorus of:

    "This is the way we brush our teeth, we brush our teeth, we brush our teeth
    This is the way we brush our teeth when it is nearly bed time..."

    Often descending into Go Gompare advert style faux operatics from mummy and daddy. The theme from the Octonauts sung as if you were an Orca (don't even ask!) also works well for us.

    1. Haha We use that chorus for putting on shoes and washing our hands! Must listen more closely to Octonauts music. ;)