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Brushing and Flossing Children’s Teeth

Dr. Nelson and the team at Summit Dental are often asked by parents how to care for their children’s teeth. In this article, Dr. Nelson answers some of these questions.

children brushing teeth

In children, teeth should be cleaned as soon as they emerge. By starting early, your baby gets used to the daily routine. A soft washcloth wrapped around your finger can substitute for a brush when teeth first appear. Ask us when you should switch to a toothbrush. We typically suggest waiting to use a regular brush until four teeth in a row have come out. An infant toothbrush can be used as soon as the teeth appear.

Here are some tips for taking care of your child’s teeth:

  • Choose a small, child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush. Soaking the brush in warm water for a few minutes before brushing can soften the bristles even more.
  • We recommend using only plain water for brushing up to the age of 2. This is because young children swallow toothpaste and swallowing too much fluoride may lead to tooth discoloration in the developing permanent teeth.
  • At age 2, start using a fluoride-free toddler training toothpaste.
  • Once a child can consistently spit out all of their training toothpaste without ever swallowing it, start using a fluoride toothpaste. This can be as early as 3 years old, or as late as 6. Ask us if you have any questions. Do check the manufacturer’s label; some toothpastes are not recommended in children under age 6. If a toothpaste is to be used, squeeze out about a green pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste onto the toothbrush.
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice a day – in the morning and just before bed. Spend 2 minutes brushing, concentrating a good portion of this time on the back molars. This is an area where cavities often first develop.
  • Replace the toothbrush every 3 or 4 months, or sooner if it shows signs of wear. Never share a toothbrush with others.
  • Start flossing your child’s teeth once a day as soon as two teeth emerge that touch. The use of floss sticks or picks instead of regular string floss may be easier for both you and your child.
  • Ask us about your child’s fluoride needs. We recommend an in office fluoride treatment at least once per year.
  • Ask us about dental sealants. These are thin, plastic protective barriers that fill in the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, protecting them from tooth decay. We will recommend these for cavity-free molars once they start erupting, around the age of 6 or 7.

When Should Children Brush and Floss on Their Own?

Most children lack the coordination to brush or floss their teeth on their own until about the age of 6 or 7. Up until this time, remember that the best way to teach children how to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Allowing your child to watch you brush your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene. If you child is interested in brushing his own teeth, great! Allow him to brush first, then follow by brushing his teeth for him. This helps kids learn how to brush well and you can help them learn the areas they are missing when they brush on their own. Plus, the teeth are all brushed very well using this method.

Any other questions? We are always here to help! Call or email and we are happy to talk with you about your child’s dental health needs.

Sources: American Dental Association, WebMD