How to Brush Your Kid’s Teeth (and do it right)

Proper Brushing of Teeth in Children


February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Nearly every parent understands the importance of regular teeth brushing to maintain their little one’s dental health, but not all parents understand the best method for helping their kids brush or the best tools to use. While some parents prefer electric brushes over traditional ones (and there are many advantages of electric brushes), we recommend you at least demonstrate proper brushing with a manual toothbrush before moving on to an electric model. Be it manual or electric, we strongly recommend soft bristles in your kids’ brushes.

Parents can begin using a soft children’s toothbrush with just water on babies as young as 1 year old; some dentists recommend regular brushing of teeth even before that (as soon as the teeth emerge) if the infant can handle it. Children’s low-fluoride toothpaste can then be introduced when your child reaches 18 months. We strongly recommend that you help brush your little one’s teeth at least twice a day — once in the morning and once before bed — to remove and prevent plaque buildup that leads to tooth decay and gum disease.

Proper Brushing Technique

The following diagram and instructions will help you to brush your child’s teeth in a consistently effective manner:

  1. Place a pea-sized drop of low-flouride toothpaste onto a soft-bristled children’s toothbrush. You don’t want to overdo it when it comes to the amount of paste you’re using: more isn’t better in this case.
  2. If your child is small, sit her in your lap, facing away from you. If your child is tall enough, you can stand behind him. Gently tilt the child’s head back against your body — this will allow you to see all the surfaces of the teeth.
  3. Angle the bristles of the toothbrush towards the gums at about 45 degrees. Gently move the brush in tight circles to clean the outer surfaces of the teeth and gums.
  4. Continuing the same circular motion, gently brush the inner surfaces of the teeth and gums.
  5. When it comes to the chewing surfaces of the teeth, use a gentle forward and backward motion.
  6. After you’ve finished brushing every surface of the teeth, encourage your child to thoroughly spit out the toothpaste.  It is not necessary to have your child rinse his mouth after this — the small amount of toothpaste still in the mouth will continue to protect against tooth decay.

We recommend brushing for at least two minutes each session. Since cavities most frequently form in the back molars, most of that time should be spent addressing those molar surfaces. Your modeling of these actions will go a long way in helping them to establish life-long healthy dental habits. Along with a good diet, daily flossing, and regular visits to the dentist’s office, children will have all the tools they need to maintain a healthy smile throughout their lives.

Troubling Facts Related to Children’s Dental Health

Helping your children to brush properly has huge implications. These are just a few statistics (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other sites) and insights that support the need for proper brushing and overall good oral hygiene habits in children:

  • Almost 20% of kids over the age of two have cavities that have not been treated.
  • Tooth decay is found in about 20% of four- and five-year-olds; by age 17, over 85% of young people have some form of tooth decay.
  • Children are five times more likely to suffer from tooth decay than from asthma.
  • Across the world, kids miss more than 51 million school hours each year because of dental-related problems.
  • Poor dental hygiene can affect the self-esteem and school performance of children, making them less likely to smile or engage in conversation.
  • Poor dental hygiene in children can lead to poor nutrition and chronic sleep problems.