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Typically, this is something you don't want out of a child. My 4 1/2 yr old has been brushing his own teeth for about a year. The problem is that I can't convey to him to spit out the toothpaste. I model and explain and still he just swallows. Suggestions very welcome.

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Explain? Did you show? – Lennart Regebro Apr 2 '11 at 4:17
I used "model" to mean repeated demonstration – Andrei Freeman Apr 7 '11 at 17:31
I've been working on this very issue with my son lately... the problem doesn't seem to be knowing how to spit the toothpaste out when he's done, so much as not swallowing it constantly during the process so that there is something left to spit out. – cabbey May 24 '11 at 16:52
Fill a cup of water half full before he starts. When he finishes brushing, have him take a swig into his mouth, swish, then spit. he water will both dilute the spit/toothpaste in his mouth so it isn't as viscous, and provide a greater volume to spit out. Have him do it twice after brushing. – Marc Jul 30 '14 at 15:08
up vote 17 down vote accepted

Interesting problem. If it were my son, I would try with water. Take a mouthful, swish around, spit. Repeat. Try to make a game out of it. See if he can hit a cup in the sink or something. If this works, move onto toothpaste. Do the exact same thing. Take a mouthful of water, swish, spit.

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This is exactly what we did, and it works. (A little too well... he definitely knows how to spit). – Justin Standard Apr 1 '11 at 23:45
Depending on the toothpaste it is probably beneficial to not rinse it out after spitting. I believe most are designed to provide protection after you finish brushing. – Joe May 25 '11 at 7:23
WOW Jeffrey Faust! I have been trying this for the longest time with my 3 yr old to no avail. He just won't get it. His 4 year old sister would do it with me every morning to demonstrate. He would watch and then he would just swallow it. Right after I read your response I called him over and asked him if he wanted to play a game. I got a small cup of water and went to the bathroom. IT WORKED!!!! Like in a matter of seconds, seriously. He was cracking up, he thought it was hilarious. Tonight we do it again with water then toothpaste. THANK YOU!!!!!! – user4272 May 3 '13 at 16:25

If your child is pretty good with competition (this won't work with kids who are sensitive about not winning things or who don't want to participate in competition) Have a spitting contest. I know, as you said, "not a behavior you really want most of the time" BUT there are times for it - you've found one.

Practice spitting watermelon seeds and things that do NOT taste good like his toothpaste probably does (explain this behavior is only for really special times like in the bathroom and adult condoned spitting contests).

Have a family contest in the backyard.

Then, when you know he CAN spit (because now he has gotten help from you, siblings neighbors etc and shown you he's pretty good at it right?), you can use water swishing to help him have enough "stuff" to spit when brushing his teeth - just don't use so much you negate any effects of ongoing protection.

You might also try making a game out of it like, how long can you brush without swallowing OR spitting? Brush together and see who "wins". If you aren't having a contest, just encourage him to spit more often than you would yourself, use an egg timer to have him spit every 30 seconds or so. . . Make it fun and silly, he'll laugh, you'll laugh and maybe he'll get it.

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Perhaps demonstrating it for him as well might help, aside from what Jeffrey said.

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In addition to practicing with water, what helped us was to use a 'big kid' or 'adult' toothpaste - one that tasted of mint.

We found that the little kids bubble gum ones he wanted to eat, but the minty stuff he wanted to spit out. If you check, you can see that the kids toothpaste actually have the same fluoride content as adult ones - at least the ones we were using.

We ended up using Tom's wicked cool children's toothpaste. It is not overly strong, but it doesn't taste like candy (makes his breath fresher too).

It also helped explaining that there was stuff in toothpaste that was good for your teeth, but not your tummy, so he had to spit.

(If worried about the fluoride content of the toothpaste, talk to your doctor or dentist about a good one to use)

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My son has recently started doing this all by his own, just because we did it (in a typical 3yo way he did it way too often). Children under 7 should only be using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to minimise swallowing, so I wouldn't worry, I'm sure they will adjust in their own time. Brush your teeth together, and just keep encouraging them every time you do it.

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Wow, a pea is even much more than what I use as an adult. For our 3 years old kid, it is more like "ant" sized, and we do not use kids tooth paste. As reminder: the brushing is useful, the toothpaste is just for taste, I have been told. – Guillaume May 30 '13 at 6:58

My son does this, or on occasion he puts his head over the sink and opens his mouth watching the water just fall out, same effect but different concept. Although you could practice outside, or in the bathroom sink, with a cup of water and do more "modeling".

I think the whole swallowing reason is why children's toothpaste, at least in the US, is made to be swallowed since young kids don't always grasp the concept.

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it is very challenging and interesting problem. If it were my 12 year old special autistic child, I would try with salted water. Take a mouthful water and demonstrate.

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are you assuming the child will naturally spit because it is salty water? What if the child swallows it? – balanced mama Feb 27 '14 at 22:31

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