Let’s talk about how to brush your child’s teeth. Brushing requires fine motor skills and good hand-eye coordination, which most kids don’t develop until they’re about 6 or 7 years old. When you brush their teeth, you’re ensuring their oral health and getting them used to how it’s supposed to feel when it’s done right.
Watch your fingers!
The right tools and technique
Size matters! Like Goldilocks, your kid’s mouth needs a fit that is juuuuust right. Use a child-sized brush with soft bristles — you can soak the brush head in warm water for a few minutes before brushing to soften the bristles even more — and a toothpaste that your child will enjoy. Next, it’s time to get brushing!
- Put the ADA recommended amount of toothpaste on the brush. For ages 0–3, that’s a smear about the size of a grain of rice. For ages 3+, about the size of a pea.
We’ll talk more about fluoride in a bit, but make sure that, no matter which toothpaste you use, your child spits and rinses after brushing! (We know kids love to gobble up tasty toothpaste, so don’t give yourself too hard a time if your little one does, too!)
2. Tilt the brush at a 45-degree angle, pointing toward the gums, to allow the bristles to reach the areas where the teeth meet the gums.
3. Brush in a small circular motion with gentle strokes about the length of a single tooth, making sure to brush the front, back, and chewing surfaces of the teeth
4. Finish up by brushing your child’s tongue — bacteria collects there, too!
Two minutes of brushing can feel like a long time, especially for your little one. There are plenty of suggestions out there for how to make the time fly by, like:
- Add a learning game to your brushing time — counting together or singing a song makes it much more fun for both of you (you can do this aloud while your child does this in their head)!
- Let your child try brushing, too — take turns with the brush and give your child feedback on their technique!
- Let them return the favor — give your child your brush and let them try their hand at brushing your teeth!
Should I use fluoride?
The decision about whether or not to use fluoride is always up to you, and there are plenty of great fluoridated and non-fluoride toothpaste options to choose from. The bottom line on fluoride is this:
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that is released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. It is found in most saltwater, freshwater, and rainwater, and it also exists in our bones and teeth. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association suggest using fluoride toothpaste for kids for many reasons. Here are two really good ones:
- Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by repairing tooth enamel that gets damaged by acids and sugars from the foods we eat.
- In children younger than 6, fluoride is incorporated into the development of adult teeth, making them stronger and more resistant to tooth decay.
We should add here that there are some risks when it comes to fluoride, but they are all tied to consuming too much fluoride. If your child can’t spit yet, hold off on the toothpaste with fluoride. If they can, make sure they understand not to swallow their toothpaste…even though it’s delicious.
Starting early helps build good habits
We hope these tips help you out next time you’re wrestling your little one at the sink. It might be a struggle, but getting your child comfortable with brushing — and helping them establish a habit of it — while they’re young can have so many long-term benefits when it comes to their health.
And who knows? Maybe getting their brushing technique up to snuff will help you out, too!