Mother and daughter are brushing teeth

How to Teach Your Children to Brush Their Teeth

Taking care of your child's oral health begins with proper toothbrushing habits, and it's never too early (or too late) to start! Whether you're celebrating a little one's first tooth or having daily brushing battles with a toddler, find the tips and information you need to teach your children how to brush their teeth and make good oral hygiene a lifelong practice.

When to Start Brushing Your Child's Teeth

You can begin implementing an oral hygiene routine a few days after birth. Use a clean, wet gauze or washcloth to gently wipe your infant's gums after feedings. As soon as your child's first tooth erupts, it's time to begin brushing with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush twice a day. Continue brushing your child's teeth until you're confident that they can brush on their own. Then, supervise toothbrushing time, making sure they use the right amount of toothpaste, reminding them not to swallow the toothpaste, and following up by brushing any places they might have missed.

How to Brush Your Child's Teeth

Brushing your child's teeth doesn't have to be complicated. Start with these five easy steps:

  • Step 1: Apply the right amount of toothpaste. The ADA recommends a rice-sized smear for children ages 0 to 3 and a pea-size amount for children ages three and up.
  • Step 2: Angle the toothbrush 45 degrees. The toothbrush should be facing towards the gums of the upper or lower teeth.
  • Step 3: Move the brush gently back and forth with short, tooth-size strokes. Continue this technique for the interior, exterior, and chewing surfaces of the teeth.
  • Step 4: Place the toothbrush in the vertical position to brush the front teeth. Make sure to clean the front and back.
  • Step 5: Brush the tongue to remove bacteria from the surface.

How long should you brush your child's teeth? Two minutes of teeth brushing twice a day should help remove harmful plaque and prevent tooth decay.

How to Make Toothbrushing Fun

No matter how many times you explain the importance of clean and healthy teeth, some children will still refuse to brush. If you're tired of the tears and fights, try these tips for making brushing fun for your kids.

  • Lead by Example. Toddlers often love to mimic what their parents are doing. Use that to your advantage by brushing together. Watching you brush your teeth can make the process more interesting for your toddler, and you can set a great example simultaneously. If you're courageous, let your toddler practice brushing your teeth while you brush theirs. Funny faces are encouraged.
  • Sing and Brush. Everything is more fun with music, and teeth brushing is no exception. Find a song about brushing to sing to your child, or make some simple lyrics on your own. You can even let them pick out one of their favorite tunes to play — bonus points if the song lasts for two minutes to encourage thorough brushing.
  • Play Games. Use props, games, or apps to add an element of fun to toothbrushing. Bring along a favorite stuffed animal or doll and let your child practice brushing its teeth while you brush theirs. Pretend a dirty puppy is hiding in their mouth and "chase it away" with the toothbrush. Or take advantage of mobile apps that play music or use characters to encourage kids to brush their teeth.
  • Let Them Choose. Practicing oral care is not an option, but you can still empower your child with choices when it comes to teeth brushing. Take your child to the toothbrush aisle at the store and let them choose a toothbrush or toothpaste in a fun color or with their favorite character. You could even have multiple toothbrushes available and let them choose which one to use when it's time to brush.
  • Reward. Sometimes a little extra motivation is all that's needed to encourage brushing. Create a simple progress chart, and let your child place a sticker every time they finish brushing their teeth. This visual aid gets them involved in the process and helps them stay focused on the task. You can also provide little rewards — like an extra story at bedtime or the ability to choose the next family board game or five minutes of extra screen time — to motivate them even more.

Toothbrushing plays an essential role in your child's oral health. Combine it with daily flossing and trips to the dentist every six months, and you can teach your child how to take care of their teeth for life.

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