Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth

Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth

Getting Started

Here are some tips for children's dental care.

  • Use a soft cloth to clean your baby's gums.

    Start a few days after birth, and do this until the first teeth come in.

  • Start caring for your child's teeth as soon as you see the first baby (primary) tooth.

    Brush your child's teeth twice a day using a small, soft brush. If your child is younger than 3 years, ask your dentist if it's okay to use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-sized amount for children ages 3 to 6 years. Teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste.

  • Start flossing your child's teeth as soon as they touch each other.

    You may find plastic flossing tools helpful. Talk with your dentist about the right timing and technique to floss your child's teeth and how to teach your child to floss.

  • Brush and floss your child's teeth for the first few years, until your child can do it alone.

    Your child can learn how to brush his or her own teeth at about age 3. Children should be brushing their own teeth morning and night by age 4. But you should supervise and check for proper cleaning.

  • Encourage your child to watch you brush your teeth at a proper angle, so he or she knows how to brush the right way.

    A good teaching method is to have your child brush his or teeth in the morning and you brush your child's teeth at night until your child masters the skill.

  • From time to time, you may want to use disclosing tablets.

    Disclosing tablets are chewable tablets that color any plaque that remains after brushing. You can get these tablets at most drugstores.

  • If your child age 6 or older has cavities, ask the dentist if your child should try mouthwash.

    Do not give your child a mouthwash that contains alcohol. The alcohol can be harmful if swallowed.

Although some children quickly learn to brush their teeth, others do not. If you are having trouble getting your child to brush, try some of the following suggestions.

  • Use a favorite toy to explain why it's important to brush.

    Many children have a favorite stuffed animal or action figure. You can encourage your child to brush the toy's teeth after brushing their own teeth.

  • Set a good example.

    Brush your teeth together with your child, and do it in stages. You can also switch roles and let your child lead the brushing.

  • Use a timer or an hourglass.

    Choose a time that lasts for as long as you feel is necessary. Humming a favorite song while brushing can also keep your child brushing longer.

  • Give your child a reward for brushing.

    For example, to reward your child for doing well, make a form that they can put a sticker on after brushing. Use a variety of stickers.

  • Let your child pick out a toothbrush and toothpaste.

    Talk to your dentist about the type of toothbrush your child needs, and steer your child in that direction. When choosing a toothpaste, stay clear of tartar-cleaning toothpastes, as they may taste bad or "sting" a young child's mouth. Ask if your child likes the toothpaste, and change it if needed.

How to brush your child's teeth

Brush your child's teeth twice a day using a small, soft brush. If your child is younger than 3 years, ask your dentist if it's okay to use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-sized amount for children ages 3 to 6 years.

  1. Kneel down behind your child and have your child stand between your knees, facing away from you.
  2. With one hand, gently press your child's head against your chest.

    You may also use that hand to push away the upper and lower lips to make it easier to get to the teeth.

  3. With the other hand, brush your child's teeth.

    Pay special attention to where the teeth meet the gums.

Talk with your dentist about when and how to floss your child's teeth or to teach your child to floss. Plastic flossing tools may be helpful.

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