Tooth Brushing: The DOs and DON’Ts for Kids

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October 14, 2011

Brushing kids’ teeth can be extremely challenging. One of the most important things you can do as a parent is establish a routine with brushing your children’s teeth. Here are some things to do, and not do, when it comes to keeping your child’s teeth healthy and clean.


Use distractions. When most patients’ moms ask me how to brush teeth when they have a wiggly kid, I usually suggest brushing their teeth in the bath. Sounds funny, right. I can tell you it does work. Most kids love to bathe and are surrounded by toys. While they are playing and splashing, use this as a distraction and whip out the toothbrush. Most of the times they are having so much fun, they will be happy to oblige.

Give them choices. Go to the store with your kids and have them pick out their own toothpaste flavor (refer to the no section below for options). Believe me it works. With my own daughter, we had so much trouble with the toothpaste. When she was a year and a half, we went to the store and I gave her 3 toothpaste packages and told her to pick out the one she wants. When we went home and it was my time to brush her teeth, I whipped out HER toothpaste and explained to her that we are going to use what she picked. It worked.

Go electric. If using a manual toothbrush doesn’t work, let them pick out an electrical toothbrush that sings or talks to them. They have virtually every type imaginable in a local CVS or Walmart. The kids will be too distracted by the toothbrush “singing” they will forget that you are brushing their teeth.

Give them independence. Make sure you give them some time to “brush” their own teeth and then once done explain to them that mommy/daddy are now going to brush their teeth.

Swap roles. Have them brush your teeth with your toothbrush. Show how happy you are to get your teeth brushed by them. Then tell them it is time for you to brush their teeth. Role play- it works!

Use the mirror. At the infant stage, take a little washcloth, wet it, and take them to the mirror. Only water at this point though. Have them watch you cleaning their gums. Babies like their reflection and will learn that having something such as a washcloth/toothbrush in their mouth, is normal. When an infant gets used to having someone in their mouth, it will also make the first dental visit less traumatic when they are a toddler. As they get older, keep this tradition and show them brushing by doing it in the mirror.

Time them. As they get older, set up a timer for 2 minutes and tell them till the beeper goes off, they must brush.

Use positive reinforcement. Try with just praise by way of hugs or words. If they are still refusing to have you brush their teeth, try sticker or little prize reinforcement. Absolutely no candy reinforcement for brushing though.


Never put your kid to bed with a sippy cup/bottle with milk or juice in it. There are true horror stories of kids’ teeth that had to be extracted at a young age because of this.

After brushing, no snacks or food should be given. When an adult brushes, that signals the end of the day and we are done eating. Don’t give into kids. Once they are brushed, they are done eating/drinking as well.

No fluoride toothpaste should be given till they can learn to spit. Swallowing fluoride toothpaste can be damaging so it is best to avoid it till they master spitting. Most kids are able to spit between 2-3 years old. If you want any suggestions for natural toothpastes that I recommend, please feel free to email me.

Only use a pea size amount of toothpaste. You do not want a ribbon of toothpaste. The kid will end up gagging if this is done.

And I will end with this. Once kids reach the school age and are dressing themselves, do not let them brush their teeth by themselves. They might say they are going upstairs to brush after you put on the timer. They will then proceed to tell you they are all done. Don’t take their word. Chances are they didn’t really do a good job brushing or perhaps didn’t even brush at all. Make sure you are there when they are brushing. That is the only way you will know it was done proficiently.

More resources include:
Dental Health Guide for Children
Academy of General Dentistry

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