700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

How to Teach Young Children to Brush Their Teeth

Feb 12, 2024
young boy brushing his teeth

Brushing teeth is an important practice for all ages. It’s especially important to teach young children that it needs to be part of their daily routine, not only for good breath but also to prevent tooth decay and gum disease and promote general good health. Below are four tips to help parents accomplish this task at home.

Start Early!

If parents follow the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and start brushing the second a tooth comes through, toothbrushing is just part of life and kids easily get used to it. Brushing those first two teeth takes only a few seconds. Starting habits later, especially in the toddler stage when children are more likely to have an opinion about it, is more difficult. Children under age 3 only need a rice-size amount of fluoride toothpaste, and children over 3 can have a pea-size amount of toothpaste. They don’t need to spit these small amounts out. You can even do the toothbrushing when your child is laying in the crib!

Reframe Teeth Brushing as a Necessity

Many parents shy away from brushing their children’s teeth because of screaming and fighting.  However, these are the same motions parents are used to when changing diapers, and the diapers still get changed! Reframing brushing teeth as a hygiene necessity and not a choice helps reassure parents that they’re doing what's best for their child. Sometimes it can help to sit your child on your lap and brush from behind, or you can find a position on the floor or in your arms to get the job done.

Choose a Toothpaste Flavor They Like

Dentists recommend brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, which comes in different colors, textures, and flavors. Make a special trip to the toothpaste aisle with your child and show them the different flavors. Nowadays, you can buy strawberry, mango, and even vanilla and chocolate flavored toothpastes! To have an added benefit, have your child spit (if able) and walk away from the sink (without rinsing), leaving those toothpaste vitamins to continue soaking into the teeth. And for safety: if you find they really like the flavor, be careful the toothpaste tube is not accessible the rest of the day, though, as too much toothpaste in their belly can lead to problems.

Make It Fun!

Electric toothbrushes may not be better than manual toothbrushes, but if they stay in the mouth longer than the manual toothbrushes, they are. You don’t have to invest in a very expensive one – they are reasonably priced and available in almost all drug and grocery stores. Sing some songs, download a toothbrushing app, set a timer or let them watch a two-minute YouTube video, and make brushing fun for your child!

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Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Kim Hammersmith, DDS, MPH, MS

Kim Hammersmith DDS, MPH, MS is a part of the Dentistry physician team at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.