Brush brush brush!

brush brushThey tell you that parenting is about patience, and about poop and vomit and curtailed sleeping hours, of course, but they don’t tell you that it also requires salesmanship, especially in the realm of tooth-brushing.

Brushing Dubsie’s teeth has been difficult as long as there have been teeth. (Or ever since our pediatrician, Dr. Busse, told us sternly that those mouth-chiclets would need a regular scrubbing, or we would risk tooth rot, disfigured smiles, mocking from friends, a life of loneliness and psychotherapy, etc.)

The difficulty of toddler dental hygiene is it is both unappealing (mouth probed with brush) and extremely easy to defend against (close mouth). When Mummy or I would perch Dubsie on our knee in the bathroom, she would clamp her jaws shut, and any attempt at force only led to fusses and weeps. We relented.

And cuddling at night we were haunted her halitosis.

At times while waving the brush over Dubsie’s pursed lips I remembered our family cat from when I was growing up, Lido, a psychotically imbalanced animal who was a constant source of menace. With Lido you never knew whether the hand you offered would lead to a purr orgy or a slash of claws. During one unfortunate era we had to give Lido medicine. The only way to do it was to sneak up on her with a thick terrycloth towel and, while grimacing in fear, wrap it around her struggling body like a straitjacket until just her head stuck out. Then you cradled her like an infant, sticking the dropper between her jaws while she glared and spat.

But I digress.

We never tried anything like that with Dubsie — talk about therapy sessions — but instead turned to this special baby toothbrush, a blue rubber thing that hugs your finger like a minature toothbrush-condom. That worked pretty well, especially when she got rewarded afterward with a little sip of water from said toothbrush-condom. That tool got retired when Dubsie discovered her second line of defense: biting. (“Owwww owww owww owwww Dubsie that hurts!“)

The solution that is working, at least for now, is part salesmanship and part participation.

Daddy (at dinnertime): Dubsie, when we’re done, are we going to change into your night diaper?

Dubsie: Uh-huh.

And then are we going to put on pajamas?

Uh huh.

And then are we going to (gasp of feigned excitement) brush our teeth??!

Uh huh.

A sales pitch alone doesn’t do it; she has a role to play. It was Mummy’s idea to have her brush my teeth while I brush hers. I urge her to the bathroom (“brush brush brush!”) and we grab our respective implements. She sits in my lap. Then she immediately closes her lips around her toothbrush in order to suck off all the toothpaste. Then I am allowed to work her mouth, angling around the molars, sneaking behind the incisors, and saying eeeeeeee! and AAAAAAAA! in a mostly futile attempt to tune the size of her mouth opening, while she does various things with my toothbrush —  whapping me on the cheek with it, or scrubbing my clavicle, or dropping it to the floor, or occasionally putting it in my mouth, to clatter it between my molars or stab my tonsils.

But whatever it takes. On most nights most of her teeth are touched by a brush, albeit briefly.

Then it’s time for the singing, the final ritual of the night. Around Christmastime we made “Away in a Manger” the Official Going to Bed Song. If Mummy is there we sing it in two-part harmony. Now Dubsie knows the words well enough that she’ll drowse off to sleep murmuring about the little lord Jesus laying down his sweet head, until the singing trails off and her fragrant breaths turn deep and rhythmic.



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