Tooth Brushing

Brushing & Flossing Instructions

Dr. Polly and Dr. Terry recommend that everyone brush their teeth in the morning and the evening. Flossing daily is also important.  It is preferable to brush after breakfast and before bed if possible, so food will not sit on the teeth for many hours.  This could increase the risk for cavities.  Parents are encouraged to brush and floss their teeth along with their children.  Kids learn from watching their parents and will quickly fall into the routine of daily and nightly brushing.   

Children’s hands and mouths are different from adults. They need to use toothbrushes designed for children. Both adults and children should use brushes with soft, rounded bristles for gentle cleaning. Change to a new brush about every three months or if the bristles start to flatten.

Wipe infant’s teeth gently with a moist, soft cloth or gauze square, or a soft baby toothbrush with water only. As babies grow, use a child’s toothbrush with a small, pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste.  Children around age two become very independent and may want to brush their own teeth.  It is OK to let toddlers brush, but be assured they WILL NOT DO A THOROUGH JOB OF GETTING THEIR TEETH CLEAN!  Parents MUST brush their children’s teeth at least once a day, preferably twice.  In fact, children don’t have the necessary coordination to brush teeth thoroughly and effectively until they start writing in cursive at around 8 to 9 years of age.  Until then, parents should assume their child missed some spots while brushing and brush those areas for them. Dentists and hygienists often advise younger children to use a gentle, short, back and forth motion or gentle circular movements to remove plaque.

When children are older and develop more hand control they can switch to a more complex method of toothbrushing.

Hold the brush at a 45 degrees angle towards teeth and gums. Move brush back and forth with short strokes, about a half tooth wide.

  • Brush the insides, outside, and chewing sides of each tooth, top and bottom.
  • Hold the brush flat on top of the teeth and brush the chewing surfaces.
  • Gently brush the tongue to remove debris.
  • Floss between teeth daily.

When To Begin Brushing

Once your child’s teeth begin erupting, you can begin cleaning them by wiping them with a moist washcloth. As your child gets more teeth, you can begin to use a soft child’s toothbrush. You should use a smear of fluoridated toothpaste for children under 3-years old. Children over 3-years old can use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. It’s ok for your child to swallow this small amount of toothpaste twice a day by accident! But avoid giving them extra.  If you don’t feel comfortable using a fluoride-containing toothpaste to your child, that’s ok! Using a training toothpaste until your child is able to spit into the sick.  

For most toddlers, getting them to brush their teeth can be quite a challenge. Some suggestions for making tooth brushing less of a battle can include:

  • Let your child practice brushing your teeth sometimes.
  • Let your child pick out a few toothbrushes with his favorite characters and giving him a choice of which one he wants to use each time (this will give him some feeling of control over the situation).
  • Let your child brush his own teeth first (you will have to “help out” with areas he’ll miss).
  • Read some children’s books about tooth brushing and visiting the dentist.
  • Have everyone brush their teeth at the same time.
  • Don’t brush in the bathroom! Brushing in the kitchen, living room, or bedroom can be just a good and your child may like it better.

To help your child understand the importance of brushing, it can be sometimes fun and helpful to let them eat or drink something that will “stain“ their teeth temporarily and then brush them clean. This is called “disclosing solution” and can be helpful with older children. It is available at your local pharmacy. Ask the doctor for more information.  

It can also be a good idea to create a “tooth brushing routine.” And stick to the same routine each day. Toothbrushing calanders can help!  Ask the pediatric dental staff for additional helpful hints.