How Kids Should Brush Their Teeth: Easy-to-Teach Steps
Kids should learn how to brush their teeth by the time they’re 5 or 6 years old. Before that, once they have their first tooth, a parent or caretaker should — gently, kindly — brush the child’s teeth for them.
However, during this time, you can help teach your child how to brush their teeth the right way!
How do you teach a kid to brush their teeth? You can teach a kid to brush their teeth through leading by example, teaching them at an early age, and making toothbrushing fun!
When a kid doesn’t brush their teeth, dental plaque may cause cavities, gum disease, bad breath, and tartar formation.
Below, we will go over frequently asked questions, how to brush your teeth for beginners, and other oral health tips for your kids.
How to Brush Your Kids’ Teeth: Step by Step
Before you brush your child’s teeth or teach them how to brush, you should understand that this is about building healthy habits. This does not include holding your kid down and forcing a toothbrush in their mouth.
If you force a child to brush, you are associating toothbrushing with negative emotions. It’s more important to get your child to want to brush their teeth than to make them do it no matter what.
Here are the step by step instructions for how a parent can brush their child’s teeth:
- Facing the same way, stand the child up in front of you or sit them on your lap in front of a mirror.
- Apply a pea-sized smear onto a soft-bristled toothbrush. For children younger than 2 or 3, only use a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice.
- Gently tilt the child’s head back against your chest. You need to see all their teeth.
- Aim the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle towards their gum line.
- Use gentle circular motions to brush the outer surfaces, then inner surfaces, of every tooth and right underneath the gum line.
- Brush back and forth on their chewing surfaces.
- Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste (if they’re using any) and not to swallow it.
At what age should your child start brushing their teeth?
By age 5 or 6, your child should start brushing their own teeth. Before that, a parent or guardian should help them brush as soon as their first tooth comes in.
Ultimately, they should brush their own teeth when they are ready to take on that responsibility.
What are the 5 steps to brushing your teeth? When a child brushes their own teeth, they should follow these 5 steps to toothbrushing that adults follow:
- Apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush.
- Aim the bristles at a 45-degree angle towards your gum line to clean the bacteria underneath the gum line.
- Use gentle circles to brush the outer and inside surfaces of all the teeth.
- Gently brush your back teeth chewing surfaces in circles, to clean away food particles that can feed contribute to dental plaque.
- Spit out any excess toothpaste after you finish. Do not swallow. And do not rinse your mouth out if you used fluoride toothpaste or hydroxyapatite-forming toothpaste.
When and How to Introduce Toothpaste
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using fluoride toothpaste on your child’s teeth to prevent and treat pediatric cavities.
Until 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended parents avoid fluoride toothpaste until the age of 2. Now, they recommend a small amount of fluoride as soon as that first tooth comes in.
Other experts recommend waiting until the age of 2 — or even later — to introduce fluoride toothpaste.
Make sure to only use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Nearly 40% of children use way too much toothpaste, which can lead to swallowing fluoride and other ingredients not meant to be swallowed.
Toothpaste is not technically necessary. The mechanical action of the toothbrush is all that you need to remove plaque. However, fluoride toothpaste (or hydroxyapatite-forming toothpaste) does give extra protection against cavities.
We recommend you try a good-tasting fluoride-free toothpaste without any potentially harmful ingredients when that first tooth comes in. If your child responds well to the toothpaste, keep using it. If not, don’t sweat it: Toothpaste is not necessary.
How often should children brush their teeth?
Children should brush their teeth twice a day. Dental plaque forms on children’s teeth just as quickly as it does on adults’ teeth. Cleaning plaque by toothbrushing (and flossing) reduces the child’s risk of tooth decay and gum disease (gingivitis/periodontitis).
Plaque buildup forms on your teeth within 4-12 hours of brushing your teeth. That’s why the ADA recommends children and adults brush twice a day during every 24 hours.
Ways to Make Brushing Fun for Kids
Here are 4 ways to make tooth brushing fun for kids:
- Stickers are a common and effective method of making brushing more fun for children. You can apply stickers to a calendar, a toy, or the toothbrush itself.
- Songs make toothbrushing more fun, as does dancing along while brushing. Try this great kid’s toothbrushing playlist on YouTube.
- Play pretend. Without scaring the child, you can pretend there are evil “sugar bugs” or “cavity monsters” that the superhero child has to defeat. For extra drama, add a cape!
- Rewards go a long way. When the child has completed a month of successful toothbrushing, you could get them a toy or a boost in allowance.
Tips for Brushing Teeth with Special Needs Children
When raising children with special needs, tips on brushing teeth are much appreciated.
Electric toothbrushes work better than manual toothbrushes to fight plaque. Many also come with a 2-minute timer — or better yet, 30-second timers telling you when to move onto the next quadrant. Many children find this timer a useful tool in getting motivated to brush their teeth for the entire 2 minutes.
Many individuals on the autism spectrum have trouble with the sensation of bristles against their teeth or gums, negatively affecting their oral care and dental hygiene. Try different toothbrushes to see which they respond best to — for example, extra-soft bristles or silicone bristles.
Certain disabilities make it difficult for the child to engage in some of those fun activities we talked about. But you can still link toothbrushing to a positive activity or motivator that the child responds well to.
For instance, they earn their bedtime glass of milk by brushing their teeth. Or they get to play their Saturday video games only after their morning oral hygiene routine.
Disclosing tablets are chewables that turn dental plaque a certain color, such as pink or blue. Instructing a child to clean the colored areas might make a lot more sense to a child than cleaning invisible plaque.
Triple Bristle’s bite and brush kit helps little brushers establish good brushing habits while easing any anxiety they may experience about toothbrushing or visiting the dentist.
Prevention may be extra important. Avoid sugary or starchy foods and replace sugar with xylitol where possible. The harmful bacteria that form dental plaque feed off of sugars and starches. Preventing poor oral health means you don’t have to worry as much about if your little one doesn’t have perfect dental care technique yet, or if they refuse to brush their teeth on a bad day.
Maintain those all-important twice-a-year dental visits. Most dentists have training/experience encouraging children with special needs. You may also seek out a dentist who specializes in working with individuals with special needs. They can also inform the parent of particular areas that need more attention.
Ultimately, try not to get discouraged. Teaching any child a new habit, especially one with a disability or special needs, can be a slow and challenging process. Just remember: small steps are key.
Toothbrushes and Toothpaste for Kids
How do I pick a toothbrush? You should pick a toothbrush that is:
- Sonic (electric, powered)
Be sure to replace your child’s toothbrush (or electric toothbrush head) every 3 months.
Triple-sided toothbrushes seem to give a similar clean to traditional electric toothbrushes, but in under a minute. However, there is evidence that when a mother brushes their child’s teeth, the triple sided toothbrush performs significantly better.
For your child, stickers and vibrant colors can make toothbrushing more exciting. Stickers are a common part of many pediatric dental health intervention programs.
How do I pick a toothpaste? You can pick toothpaste for kids by testing what your child responds best to. Whether they prefer a fruity taste or mint taste, whether they know how little toothpaste to use, whether they show signs of fluoride allergy — take all of these into consideration.
Toothpaste is not necessary to remove plaque. It is the mechanical motion of the toothbrush that cleans dental plaque off your teeth. Fluoride does help prevent and treat cavities, though.
Does my child need toothpaste at first? No, a child does not need toothpaste at first.
The ADA and AAP recommend a smear of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice as soon as the first tooth comes in. However, a CDC report reveals that nearly 40% of children use too much toothpaste, which leads to swallowing fluoride and increasing the risk of fluorosis.
Other Tips for Healthy Teeth
The best way to get a full clean in half the time is Triple Bristle’s patented triple sided toothbrush. We even offer a unique Triple Bristle toothbrush just for kids, which includes stickers, more compact brush heads, and an easy-grip handle.
Check out our online store for more great products for the best oral hygiene possible.
Children should start seeing a dentist within six months of their first tooth appearing. Since most children get their first tooth around 6 months old, their first visit to the dental office should be at about 1 year old.
All children should start flossing as soon as they have two teeth next to each other. That’s when toothbrushes are unable to clean all the dental plaque in their mouth. Check out Triple Bristle’s patented unwaxed dental floss to complete that healthy smile.
Kids' dental probiotics are a great tool for pediatric oral health. According to a 2012 article published in the Journal of Oral Biology and Craniofacial Research, oral probiotics are “very important for developing immunity and prevention of future diseases...in infants and children.”
Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings over the narrow grooves on your back teeth chewing surfaces. The grooves are sealed so that food particles and bacteria cannot settle there, causing cavities. Dental sealants are another way that dentists promote healthy teeth.
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- Melo, P., Malone, S., Rao, A., & Fine, C. (2020). A 21-Day School-Based Toothbrushing Intervention in Children Aged 6 to 9 Years in Indonesia and Nigeria: Protocol for a Two-Arm Superiority Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR research protocols, 9(2), e14156. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7060496/
- Thornton-Evans, G., Junger, M. L., Lin, M., Wei, L., Espinoza, L., & Beltran-Aguilar, E. (2019). Use of Toothpaste and Toothbrushing Patterns Among Children and Adolescents—United States, 2013–2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(4), 87. Full text: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6804a3.htm
- Jindal, G., Pandey, R. K., Singh, R. K., & Pandey, N. (2012). Can early exposure to probiotics in children prevent dental caries? A current perspective. Journal of oral biology and craniofacial research, 2(2), 110-115. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942020/