When the bristles on my toddler's toothbrush become crushed, frayed, and hard, I know it's time to get a new one. The problem is, this happens much more frequently than anyone else in the family — because he's always biting and chewing on his toothbrush (and, um, anything else he can get his mouth on). He had a banana toothbrush teether when he was little, designed for extra chomping, but the light-up blue one he uses now just isn't.
Sometimes, brushing his teeth is a huge battle because he won't stop chomping down. Other times, he sneaks his toothbrush out of the bathroom just so he can bite it. It can be frustrating! POPSUGAR talked to pediatric dentists to get the lowdown on why kids do this, and — more importantly — how to get them to stop. For the sake of your wallet (and your sanity!), keep reading to see what they have to say.
Why Do Toddlers Bite or Chew on Their Toothbrushes?
Just like any toy, hard cracker, spoon, or other random object you find in your toddler's mouth, your toddler chews on a toothbrush because it feels good, according to the experts we spoke to. Plus, toddlers often use their mouths to explore things around them, so it's pretty natural for them to munch on something. "When you stick an object with an interesting texture into their mouths, it is natural for them to try to chew on it as a way to explore it," said Jin Lin, DMD, pediatric dentist and owner of Hurst Pediatric Dentistry in Hurst, Texas.
They could also be chomping down because their teeth are coming in. "Chewing on things gives them relief from the discomfort of the teeth cutting through the gums," said Tiffanie Garrison-Jeter, DMD, general dentist and owner of Definition Dental Studio in Nolensville, Tennessee. She also mentioned that toddlers love fruity-flavored toothpaste, so if you use that, they may be sucking on the bristles to enjoy the flavor, like they would a sweet treat.
Can Chewing On a Toothbrush Hurt My Toddler?
Although constantly having to buy new toothbrushes for your toddler may be annoying, there is fortunately very little chance that chewing on toothbrushes would hurt your toddler. "Chewing on any hard object — whether it be a hard plastic toothbrush handle or a plastic toy — can potentially result in a chipped or fractured tooth," Dr. Lin told POPSUGAR. "However, I think the risk that a toddler will seriously damage his or her teeth by biting on a toothbrush is fairly low. Anything can happen, but I have yet to see a tooth injury like this."
How Can I Get My Toddler to Stop Biting or Chewing Their Toothbrush?
"Toddlers typically stop this habit as they get older and primary 'baby teeth' are all in the mouth," Dr. Garrison-Jeter told POPSUGAR. "What you can do to limit it is to only have the toothbrush accessible when it's time to actually brush their teeth."
You can also try a parenting classic: Distraction. "If your child's back molars have not come in yet, try placing a clean finger between your toddler's back gums to keep his or her mouth open," Dr. Lin said. "Another helpful strategy is to talk with or sing to your child for a minute or two to help them feel happy and relaxed. Then gently tilt your child's chin up, use one hand to lift his or her lips back and the other hand to brush while continuing to talk or sing. You would be amazed at how much difference that little bit of distraction can make for some children."
For me, making teeth brushing a game has helped my toddler be more interested in actually brushing as opposed to just chewing. We practice opening our mouths and saying "ah," sticking out tongues, biting down and saying "grr" — anything to keep his interest long enough for me to clean his teeth. I've also made it a rule not to allow the toothbrush out of the bathroom, making it a less tempting teether.
If you're worried about your toddler chewing on a toothbrush or need more tips on brushing their teeth, make an appointment with your local dentist. Teeth brushing doesn't have to be a nightmare — healthy oral hygiene is possible at this age!