How to Teach Kids to Brush Teeth: A Complete Guide for Parents

Getting kids to brush their teeth can be a battle. I remember struggling as a kid to build good oral hygiene habits that stuck. But teaching kids to brush properly is critical for avoiding painful cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health problems down the road.

As a parent, you play an important role in instilling good brushing habits in your children. The earlier you start, the better! With patience and persistence, you can get even the most stubborn kid brushing twice a day.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about teaching kids of all ages to brush their teeth effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Start oral hygiene habits as early as infancy to get kids used to daily brushing.
  • Make it fun by using kid-friendly toothbrushes, songs, games, charts, and rewards.
  • Lead by example and brush your teeth together. Praise good brushing habits.
  • Use soft bristled toothbrushes and fluoride toothpastes approved for kids.
  • Demonstrate proper brushing techniques and supervise brushing until age 8.
  • Ensure kids brush twice daily for 2 minutes with parental oversight.
  • Adapt methods based on your child’s age and abilities.
  • Visit the dentist regularly to reinforce good habits and spot problems early.
  • Stay positive through setbacks. Stick with routines and praise progress.

Why Brushing Is Essential for Kids

Brushing properly is absolutely critical for children’s oral health and development. Here’s why it’s so important to instill good brushing habits early:

Prevents Tooth Decay and Cavities

Tooth decay occurs when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up on teeth. Brushing removes this plaque before it can cause cavities (holes in teeth from decay). Cavities are the most common chronic childhood disease.

Fights Gum Disease

Plaque can irritate and inflame gums, leading to gingivitis. This can progress to periodontitis, which damages gums and bones supporting the teeth. Brushing helps prevent these gum diseases.

Removes Food Debris

Brushing cleans your child’s teeth of bits of food stuck between teeth and residues left over after eating. This prevents buildup of bacteria.

Produces Whiter, Brighter Smiles

Regular brushing removes stains over time, leaving your child with whiter, brighter smiles. This boosts their confidence and self-esteem.

Develops Healthy Lifelong Habits

Starting good oral hygiene habits early sets your kids up for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. Kids who brush twice daily keep these habits into adulthood.

Brushing Guidelines By Age

How you teach your child to brush will depend a lot on their age and abilities. Follow these general tooth brushing guidelines tailored to different age groups:

Infants (0-2 years)

Even before your baby’s first tooth peaks through the gums, it’s a good idea to get them used to oral hygiene habits by gently wiping their gums with a wet washcloth or soft toothbrush after feeding.

Once teeth start coming in, graduate to a soft baby toothbrush. Use a smear of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice. Gently brush in circular motions for about 2 minutes twice daily, concentrating on gum lines and all sides of teeth. Doing it yourself allows you to ensure thorough brushing. Make it part of your daily routine, like before bedtime.

At this young age, brushing is more about acclimating babies to the habit and tasting toothpaste rather than actual cleaning. So don’t worry if you can’t brush every tooth surface perfectly yet. Praise and reward your baby for cooperating with smiles, hugs, and Tickle Time.

Toddlers (2-3 years)

Now that your child has a full set of baby teeth, they can brush more effectively but will still need close parental supervision. Invest in a fun toddler toothbrush with soft bristles and large easy-grip handle. Electric spinbrushes can make brushing more fun.

Up the amount of fluoride toothpaste to about the size of a pea. Demonstrate proper technique and let your toddler try brushing for a few minutes, then take over to brush thoroughly along gum lines, behind back teeth, and over all surfaces for 2 minutes. Praise successes to build the habit.

Use a favorite song, like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for the duration of brushing to make it enjoyable. Give stickers or small rewards for cooperation. Pair brushing with your toddler’s daily bath or bedtime story so it becomes an ingrained part of the routine.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

Preschool aged kids gain better dexterity but still require supervision and reminders to brush completely for the full 2 minutes. Look for toothbrushes decorated with their favorite cartoon characters, superheroes, princesses, etc to get them excited to brush. Ensure they use a soft-bristled brush and pea-sized fluoride toothpaste.

Teach your child to brush their tongue and roof of their mouth in addition to external tooth surfaces. Have them practice brushing doll’s or teddy bear’s teeth first. Schedule twice daily brushing after meals so food is not left on their teeth. You can use a timer, sing two songs, or invent a two-minute game to ensure they brush long enough.

Praise your preschooler for attempting proper technique, even if you still need to provide touch ups. Use a star chart, stickers, or points they can save up for small rewards to motivate them to keep brushing. Make it fun by taking turns brushing one another’s teeth too.

Elementary Schoolers (6-10 years)

Kids at this age gain independence and dexterity to brush thoroughly on their own, but may still try to cut corners and need reminders. Supervise occasionally to confirm proper technique and coverage. Look for toothbrushes with polish revealing graphics when pressure is applied, or with built-in timers to keep them brushing for the full 2 minutes.

You can introduce electric toothbrushes with timers and smartphone apps that make brushing more interactive and fun with games and rewards. However, make sure they don’t play with the apps to the detriment of brushing properly. Have them brush twice daily and after sugary or acidic foods.

Praise your kids for taking initiative but remind them to brush all tooth surfaces and spit out toothpaste instead of swallowing. Set up friendly family competitions for who has the best brushing or whitest smile. Make twice daily brushing part of their morning and bedtime routines so it’s habit by now.

Teens (11+ years)

Hopefully by the teen years your child has ingrained the habit of brushing properly twice a day. But peer pressure, busy schedules, sports, and sleepovers can sometimes disrupt routines.

Keep your teen motivated by getting trendy toothbrushes in their favorite colors, or high-tech electric brushes. Stress how oral hygiene affects their appearance and confidence with peers. Emphasize that brushing and flossing should be part of their normal hygiene along with showering and deodorant.

Make sure they know to replace worn toothbrushes every 3 months and to brush for 2 full minutes, not just a quick once over. Remind them to brush first thing in the morning and before bed, even if they are running late or tired. Lead by example and keep up your own oral hygiene routine. Check in periodically and have them visit the dentist twice yearly.

Brushing Techniques to Teach Your Kids

Mastering proper brushing technique is just important as the habit itself in maintaining your kids’ oral health. Make sure to demonstrate and closely monitor brushing to ensure they learn good technique. Here are effective scrubbing methods to teach kids:

Bass Method

This scientific brushing method is commonly recommended by dentists. Angle the brush 45 degrees towards your child’s gums. Gently use vibrating back-and-forth motions, pressing just firmly enough to feel the bristles on gums. Move the brush systematically from one area of the mouth to the next. Repeat until time is up.

Fones Method

In this technique, brush teeth in small circular motions, moving gradually from one section of the mouth to the next. Use 10 short circular strokes on each outer tooth surface. Brush the inner surfaces of front teeth vertically with 10 more strokes. Repeat on every tooth. Kids often find the short repetitive circles fun.

Roll Method

Also called the Modified Stillman Method, this involves gently rolling the brush over teeth surfaces and gums to clean debris. Roll the brush back and forth using light pressure and wide arcing strokes. Roll along gum lines, then expand to cover outer, inner, and chewing surfaces.

Sulcular Method

Here you place bristles along gum lines at a 45 degree angle aimed towards the roots. Gently sweep the brush back and forth to scrub the sulcular area below the gum line where bacteria thrive. Finish by brushing top surfaces. The soft vibrations stimulate gums.

Whichever method you use, teach kids to methodically brush the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces of all teeth using soft bristles. Ensure they leave no spot untouched. Proper technique takes patience and practice!

Making Brushing Fun for Kids

For kids, the battle is not just learning to brush properly but doing it willingly and habitually. The key is to make brushing engaging. Here are fun tips to get kids excited about those pearly whites:

Make Faces in the Mirror

Have your child make different exaggerated facial expressions while brushing like a silly grin, frown, puffing out their cheeks, or rolling their eyes. They can compete to see who makes the funniest face.

Race with Siblings

Turn brushing into a competition between siblings by racing to see who can brush all their teeth first. Offer a small prize to the winner.

Sing Songs

Sing made up silly songs or your child’s favorite tunes while they brush to make it more enjoyable. Work brushing into the lyrics or dance to the music.

Follow a Pirate Map

Draw a treasure map of their mouth with areas to brush marked as destinations. Have them follow the map while you pretend to be a pirate guiding their ship.

Invent a Story

Make up an interactive story where your child plays the hero who uses their toothbrush to scrub away sticky candy monsters. Let them come up with wacky plot twists or new bad guys.

Brush Stuffed Animals’ Teeth

Have your child demonstrate their skills by carefully brushing their favorite stuffed animals’ or dolls’ teeth. Then reward them by letting them brush yours.

Use Egg Timers

Egg timers provide a visual cue for how long to keep brushing. Kids can watch the time counting down as a race against the clock.

Follow Apps or Videos

Kids brush better when following fun toothbrushing videos or games on smart toothbrushes. Just make sure they don’t get distracted.

With some creativity and patience, you can make brushing enjoyable family bonding time. Your kids will come to see it as an interesting challenge rather than a chore.

Choosing the Right Supplies

Start your kids off right by carefully selecting the right toothbrushes and toothpastes for their age and abilities. Here are some kindergarten-friendly options:

Soft Bristle Toothbrushes

Always use soft or extra soft bristles. Medium and hard bristles can damage young enamel. Look for toothbrushes with larger handles designed to fit little hands. Replace brushes every 3 months or after illness.

Electric Toothbrushes

Oscillating electric brushes with pressure sensors can make brushing more fun and effective for kids ages 6+. Look for child settings with reduced vibration. Timers and smart features add motivation.

Flavored Toothpastes

Flavored pastes for kids encourage tasting and spitting vs swallowing. Opt for ADA approved pastes with fluoride for cavity prevention. Use just a small pea-sized amount until age 3.

Two-sided Toothbrushes

Some kids’ brushes have different textures/bristles on each side to make brushing the tongue easier.

Disclosing Tablets

These tablets temporarily stain plaque so kids see where they missed brushing. It provides helpful visual feedback.

Investing in some fun oral hygiene supplies tailored to your kid’s age makes it easier to teach good brushing habits.

Setting Up a Reward System

Positive reinforcement and praise go a long way with teaching kids new skills. Consider setting up a structured reward system to celebrate brushing milestones:

Give Verbal Praise

Compliment your kid when they brush nicely. Let them know you noticed their good oral hygiene efforts.

Hand Out Stickers and Certificates

Kids love decorating their bathrooms or bedrooms with stickers, magnets, and certificates marking days they brushed.

Start a Brushing Chart

Use a calendar to track twice daily brushing. Give a star sticker each time they brush. Provide a reward after so many stars.

Award Points

Earn points towards small prizes, toys, books, screen time, or outings when they brush diligently and cooperate.

Schedule Weekly Treats

Promise a weekly trip to get ice cream, visit a playground, or other fun treat if they brushed well all week.

Throw Monthly Brushing Parties

If the whole family brushes properly for a month, celebrate with a special brushing party using party hats, sweet treats, and games.

Marking progress and milestones provides positive reinforcement. But remember, the best reward is developing lifelong habits that lead to better oral and overall health.

Common Obstacles and Solutions

Teaching kids to brush their teeth properly takes patience and perseverance. You’ll inevitably hit frustrating setbacks, refusals, and conflicts along the way. Here are constructive ways to overcome common obstacles:

Problem: Your children refuses to brush, screams, or cries.

Solution: Stay calm and turn brushing into a silly game. Have them brush favorite toys first. Offer choices like picking out a toothbrush or toothpaste flavor. Use a favorite song or give control letting them brush your teeth next. Praise any effort.

Problem: Your kid deliberately does a poor or hurried job brushing.

Solution: Make sure brushing takes a full 2 minutes by using a timer. Check technique and have them redo spots they missed. Remind them cavities result from poor brushing.

Problem: Your child is too young or uncoordinated to reach all areas.

Solution: Take over brushing their teeth properly until they develop the dexterity, usually around age 8. Make it fun by singing or taking turns.

Problem: Mornings and bedtimes are too rushed for brushing routines.

Solution: Build brushing into existing habits like dressing or reading a bedtime story. Prepare toothbrushes and toothpastes the night before. Set phone alarm reminders.

Problem: Your kid brushes vigorously, causing gum damage.

Solution: Teach them to use only light pressure and soft bristles. Show proper technique emphasizing gentle motions. Monitor them closely to correct habits.

Stay positive through challenges. With consistent repetition, kids eventually see brushing as just another part of their day. Remind them of the rewards of healthy smiles and fresh breath when they feel discouraged.

Visiting the Dentist Regularly

No matter how diligent your at-home oral hygiene efforts, it is vital to take your kids to the dentist regularly to spot potential problems early. The American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend:

  • First visit by age 1 or within 6 months of getting first teeth.
  • Check ups every 6 months starting at age 2.
  • Semi-annual dental visits continuing through adolescence.

The dentist will evaluate for proper growth, alignment, and development of teeth, jaws, and cheeks. They clean plaque and tartar that is hard to remove through brushing alone. And they can detect cavities and other issues like misaligned bites early when treatment is easier. This reinforcement from a professional helps convince kids of the importance of brushing.

Look for kid-friendly dentists with fun, relaxed offices and pediatric experiences. Discuss any concerns about your child’s oral habits. You can request tips, demonstrations, and follow up to help your family implement better brushing routines. Regular dental visits ensure your child’s teeth stay healthy and sparkling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are quick answers to some other common questions parents have about teaching kids to brush their teeth:

What age should my child start brushing their own teeth? Start introducing a toothbrush around age 1 but take over brushing yourself until age 6 or 7 when they gain dexterity. Stay engaged in supervising thorough twice daily brushing until around age 8.

How can I get my toddler to cooperate with brushing? Make it fun by singing, inventing stories, or brushing their favorite toys too. Offer choices of toothbrush colors and flavors. Use sticker charts to motivate.

What toothpaste should my child use? ADA approved fluoride toothpastes help strengthen enamel. Use just a small smear or pea sized amount. Avoid alcohol-containing mouthwashes before age 6 which can burn sensitive tissues.

How can I tell if my child is brushing effectively? Watch their technique and inspect for missed spots. Disclosing tablets temporarily stain plaque to reveal where they need to brush more. Notice if gums are red or irritated, which could indicate poor brushing. Have the dentist evaluate at check ups.

What if my kid doesn’t like the taste of toothpaste? Flavored toothpastes appeal to kids’ tastes. Brands like Crest, Tom’s of Maine, Hello, and Colgate offer kid-friendly options. Burt’s Bees makes flavors like strawberry, watermelon, and orange that kids love.

Conclusion and Next Steps

I hope after reading this guide, you feel empowered to start your kids on the path to proper oral hygiene from an early age.