May 28, 2024
How to Brush Kids Teeth

Oral hygiene is extremely important for children’s overall health and well-being. Proper brushing techniques lay the foundation for good oral health habits that can last a lifetime.

However, brushing techniques need to be adapted for different age groups as children’s motor skills and ability to take care of their teeth independently develop.

Here, I am going to provide you with the best practice recommendations for brushing techniques in three key age groups: 0-3 years, 3-6 years, and 6-12 years.

Check: How to Make Brushing More Fun: 10 Fun Ways to Get Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth

Brushing Technique for Ages 0-3 Years

The first few years of a child’s life are critical for establishing long-term oral health. However, infants and toddlers lack the manual dexterity and focus to brush their own teeth effectively. Parental supervision and assistance is essential during this stage.

Getting Started

  • Begin cleaning your baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad after feeding. This removes plaque and bacteria and helps your baby get used to oral cleaning.
  • Once the first teeth erupt, start using a soft-bristled toothbrush. The size of the toothbrush head should be small and angled to easily reach all areas. Replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months or sooner if bristles become frayed.
  • Use just a smear or grain of rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Children under 3 are at risk of developing dental fluorosis if too much fluoride toothpaste is ingested.

Brushing Technique

  • Sit behind your child so they are reclining against your chest. This provides you with the best view and control. You can also try the knee-to-knee position.
  • Gently brush all surfaces of each tooth using short, soft strokes. Make sure to include the tongue, roof of mouth, gums, and insides of cheeks.
  • Focus on getting children used to the sensation and process of brushing. Don’t worry about removing every bit of plaque at this age – that will come later.
  • Make it fun by singing songs, making faces in the mirror, or letting your child hold a favorite toy. Praise your child for sitting still and cooperating.

Frequency

  • As soon as the first tooth erupts, begin brushing twice per day for about 2 minutes each time.
  • Brush your child’s teeth in the morning after the first feeding and before bedtime. Consistency is key.
  • Help or fully brush your child’s teeth until they develop the manual dexterity to do it properly themselves, which occurs around age 3-4.

Brushing Technique for Ages 3-6 Years

The early preschool years are when children’s self-care abilities rapidly improve. However, adult supervision remains crucial during this period. Follow these tips to continue fostering your child’s oral hygiene habits.

Getting Started

  • Transition your child to a child-sized toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head when they are around 3 years old. Let your child pick out their toothbrush so they are excited to use it.
  • Increase the amount of fluoride toothpaste to a pea-sized amount at age 3. Continue supervising brushing to ensure they don’t use too much.
  • If your child cannot reliably spit out toothpaste, use only a smear until age 3. Wipe off any excess rather than rinsing with water.

Brushing Technique

  • Guide your child in holding the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. Gently brush back and forth or in small circles using short strokes.
  • Teach your child to systematically brush each section of the mouth – top teeth, bottom teeth, front teeth, back teeth, chewing surfaces. Sing a song or make up a game to ensure thorough brushing.
  • Show your child how to gently brush their tongue to remove bacteria and freshen breath.
  • Increase brushing time to 2 minutes as your child gains experience. Use a timer or song to make it fun.

Frequency

  • Continue supervised brushing twice per day – morning and evening.
  • Ensure your child spits out toothpaste but does not rinse with water, which washes away protective fluoride.
  • Praise your child when they brush thoroughly. Offer rewards like stickers on a calendar to motivate brushing habits.

Other Tips

  • Avoid letting children swallow large amounts of toothpaste. Use only a pea-sized amount and teach your child to spit carefully.
  • Store your child’s toothbrush away from other toothbrushes to avoid spreading bacteria.
  • Model good brushing techniques yourself and brush alongside your child to instill the habit.
  • Schedule your child’s first dental visit by age 1, or within 6 months of their first tooth erupting.

Brushing Technique for Ages 6-12 Years

As children approach school age, their fine motor skills improve to where they can brush their own teeth effectively. However, adult monitoring is still needed in the early years of this stage.

Getting Started

  • Children at this stage can use a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for their age group. Replace brushes every 3-4 months or when bristles appear frayed.
  • Dispense only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for your child and supervise brushing to ensure they don’t use too much.

Brushing Technique

  • Guide children to position the toothbrush bristles properly. Show them proper wrist motion and short strokes.
  • 8-10 strokes should be given on 2-3 teeth in circular motion.
  • Instruct children to systematically brush the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces of all teeth. Ensure they are covering every area of the mouth.
  • Teach your child to gently brush their tongue and the roof of their mouth.
  • Increase brushing time to 2 minutes as dexterity improves. Use a fun timer to help your child brush thoroughly for the full duration.

Frequency

  • Children should brush their teeth twice per day – morning and night. Remind them that brushing is not optional.
  • Ensure your child spits out toothpaste instead of rinsing with water after brushing.
  • Praise your child for achieving 2 minutes of brushing. Track progress with a calendar or rewards system.

Other Tips

  • Check-in periodically to monitor your child’s technique and offer correction if needed.
  • Avoid pressuring children to brush perfectly. Make it a positive experience and celebrate small successes.
  • Schedule regular dental cleanings every 6 months to reinforce oral hygiene habits.
  • Teach your child to brush gently. Pressing hard can damage gums and enamel.
  • Store your child’s toothbrush separately from others and replace it every 3-4 months.

Proper brushing technique lays the groundwork for a lifetime of good oral health. Be patient with your child, make it fun, and celebrate small successes along the way. With regular brushing habits established early on, your child will be set up for a beautiful, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime.

Common Brushing Mistakes to Avoid

Some common mistakes lead to ineffective brushing. Watch for these issues:

  • Hard-bristled toothbrushes that damage gums
  • Not replacing toothbrush every 3-4 months
  • Brushing with too much force and pressure
  • Failing to brush for 2 minutes
  • Moving brush side to side instead of gentle circles
  • Not cleaning all surfaces, especially back molars
  • Not brushing the tongue to remove bacteria
  • Swallowing toothpaste
  • Rinsing with water after brushing

Rinsing washes away protective fluoride, so just spit out excess toothpaste instead.

Here’s an interesting video that I found on YouTube that may guide you to teach your kids, such as brushing kids properly.

References

  1. American Dental Association. Brushing your baby’s teeth. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/brushing-your-babys-teeth
  2. Nemours KidsHealth. Brushing and flossing. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/brushing-flossing.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brushing your child’s teeth. https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/brushing-childs-teeth.html
  4. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Brushing basics. https://www.aapd.org/resources/parent/brushing-basics/
  5. Healthy Children – American Academy of Pediatrics. Brushing up on toothbrushing. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/oral-health/Pages/Brushing-Up-On-Toothbrushing.aspx
  6. American Dental Association. Baby’s first dental visit. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/first-dental-visit
  7. National Health Service. Children’s teeth. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/taking-care-of-childrens-teeth/

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