Teeth Brushing for Kids: Three Strategies for Proper Technique

As a parent, you've witnessed your child's special teeth-brushing technique: a glob of toothpaste, 10 seconds of brushing and a huge mess. It may be over quickly, but it doesn't get the job done. Instead, your little one needs to know how to brush properly, to remove plaque and get rid of cavity-causing bacteria. You can make teeth brushing for kids total child's play with these tips.

Playing Dentist

Kids might not realize that their technique doesn't work, simply because they haven't seen it done in front of them. By letting them imitate proper technique on a doll, puppet or figurine, they can more clearly see the right way to brush.

Try this game: Tell your child you're going to play dentist and grab a favorite toy (preferably one with hard, plastic teeth). Get a clean toothbrush and pretend the doll is going to the dentist for the first time. While the doll lies back on a pillow, you can pretend to examine its teeth and talk about proper toothbrushing. The Mayo Clinic suggests using short back-and-forth strokes directly at the gumline, so start there. Give your child the chance to "play dentist," reminding him or her to brush the fronts and backs of the doll's teeth. Practicing good technique on a teddy bear's teeth will encourage them to use the same method on their own.

Finding Plaque with Disclosing Tablets

One mistake that kids often make when brushing is simply not being thorough. They brush but miss key spots, or only work on the tooth surface and miss the gumline. A quick exercise suggested by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research can teach your child how proper brushing technique is the only way to keep their teeth as clean as they should be. Start by purchasing plaque "disclosing tablets" at the grocery store, have your child chew these tablets which will mix with their saliva for 30 seconds and then spit them out into the sink. Usually plaque disclosing tablets are red, the plaque will appear red on the teeth and gumline. Your child will brush their gums and teeth to remove the plaque. Providing evidence of where the plaque is gives them firsthand incentive to do a better job of removing it with a proper technique. So hand over a toothbrush and some pleasant-tasting toothpaste – like the Colgate® Spongebob Mild Bubble Fruit® – and watch them eagerly brush the color away.

Brushing Long Enough

Another common mistake in teeth brushing for kids is simply not brushing for long enough. Kids want to get it over with, so they may scrub quickly or hard for several seconds to make up for the brief time they're in the bathroom. Unfortunately, 10 seconds of aggressive toothbrushing isn't enough to clean teeth; find a way to remind your child to be kind to their teeth, and brush for the full two minutes recommended by the American Dental Association.

An app can make brushing more fun and help time the process for proper technique. Download the Colgate Tooth Fairy app.<--available for both Android and iOS. With a game and a simple two-minute timer, your child doesn't have to be bored when brushing – and knows exactly how long to brush before she is really done.-->

Starting healthy brushing habits during childhood can help set your kids up for a lifetime of good checkups and healthy teeth. Some gentle reminders may be all that's needed to set your child's technique on the right track – now and well into adulthood.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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How to FLOSS

  1. Pull 18 to 24 inches of dental floss from the floss dispenser.

  2. Wrap the ends of the floss around your index and middle fingers.

  3. Hold the floss tightly around each tooth in a C shape; move the floss back and forth in a push-pull motion and up and down against the side of each tooth.

How to BRUSH

  1. Place the toothbrush at a 45°angle along the gum line. Move the toothbrush in a back and forth motion, and repeat for each tooth.

  2. Brush the inside surface of each tooth, using the same back and forth technique.

  3. Brush the chewing surface (top) of each tooth.

  4. Use tip of brush to brush behind each tooth — front and back, top and bottom and up and down strokes.

  5. Be sure to brush your tongue to remove odor-causing bacteria.