How Brushing Our Teeth Became A Cherished Bonding Activity

Further proof that the smallest moments truly are the best.

by Cara Strickland

In the early days of parenthood, I often felt so tired that I would go to bed without brushing my teeth. For some people this wouldn’t be a big deal, but from my perspective it felt monumental.

I was raised in a family where teeth brushing was never optional. Not only was it a matter of health, but for as long as I can remember it was a family ritual. No matter how busy the day was, it would always begin and end with a loving reminder to head to the bathroom, grab the Crest plus Scope and my toothbrush, and complete the two-minute routine that's so simple it's almost forgettable. It's become a practice that grounds me, mundane as it is.

Once I’d gained some of my bearings as a parent, brushing my teeth before bed was a small way to help me feel like myself, and to recapture that grounding feeling. I’d brush before leaving the house for that final “put together” feel, the finishing touch to my outfit.

Watching her develop a common interest to me was delightful.

Given my personal history with teeth brushing, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that my daughter became fascinated with her own teeth, and making sure they were clean. From a parenting perspective, watching her develop a common interest to me was delightful.

We started with a toothbrush in the shape of a banana as soon as her first two little teeth popped out. But before long, she had graduated to a big girl toothbrush, and she carried it with her everywhere she went. Soon, I was finding toothbrushes all over the house, no matter how hard I tried to contain them. I smiled to myself when I found one before popping it into the dishwasher.

When she began speaking, she started identifying her features: eyes, nose, mouth, teeth! She would open her mouth and pointed to her own teeth, then toddle over to my husband and me to show us our own teeth. Sometimes, she would try to brush her doll’s teeth, even though they didn’t have any. Now at 18 months old, one of her favorite daily rituals is to practice squeezing our Crest plus Scope from the tube — sometimes making it onto the toothbrush, sometimes not.

She’s too young for much toothpaste, but sometimes I rub just a little on her brush to get her used to the idea, and the entire process fills her with joy. This same girl who won’t sit still for me to put her hair into a ponytail is intent on letting me scrub every last tooth, even the molars way in the back. She’s good at opening her mouth wide, something I’m sure will win her points at the dentist.

These sweet moments are beginning to extend outside of our bedtime routine. For example, when I drop my daughter off at my mom's place each week for a regular babysitting session, my little girl insists on teeth brushing as an activity of choice, sometimes without even greeting her grandma first. She'll whisk her grandma away to the bathroom, grab both of their toothbrushes (she has her own at grandma’s house), and share one of her favorite everyday rituals with my mom — a seemingly unexciting quirk of the 18-month-old mind, but one that signals to me how this small act has become a small way that my daughter is learning to express love.

Watching her share this sweet childhood fascination is reigniting the passion for me, as well. Once I got my own brushing back on track, I started flossing again. I’m remembering how it grounded me to start up these healthy rituals again as a very new mother. In these chaotic days, both in the world and as a parent of a toddler, I need that grounding just as much.

I hope that one day, my daughter will look back on these times and remember this simple but impactful family ritual, like I do. I hope that she continues to be relentless about caring for herself, not only for the sake of healthy gums and strong teeth, but because that’s a habit she can apply to so many areas of her life. I can’t control what the future will look like for my daughter — there are always so many unknowns — but I know that in teaching her to brush her teeth, I’m teaching her an easy way to reconnect with herself, even when she’s busy or stressed, even if she decides to have a child and she’s so tired she skips a few nights. She is worth the time, care, and teeth brushing, and so am I.

This post is sponsored by Crest.