Learning how to brush teeth is a right of passage toward self awareness, and independence. Brushing teeth is like second nature to us, but it isn’t for our kids. Brushing is a habit we as parents must create as our children grow, starting as early as 6-12 months old when those first tiny teeth appear, and continuing until we are certain that those kiddos are doing a good job brushing on their own.
How do you get started learning how to brush?
Caring for your baby’s gums and teeth The earliest stages of caring for your baby’s mouth don’t involve a toothbrush or toothpaste. You’ll simply be wiping down their gums with a moistened, soft washcloth or piece of gauze, generally after feedings and before bedtime. This helps to prevent the formation of bacteria.
Then, by the time your child has a few little teeth – perhaps two on the top and two on the bottom – you can begin to brush using a very soft brush with a small head. (Your dentist can recommend the right tool for learning how to brush teeth.)
It’s okay to use a very small amount of toothpaste – about the size of a grain of rice – to brush these little teeth. Using more is unwise as the baby does not know how to spit out any excess toothpaste that remains after brushing.
As the child progresses into toddlerhood, you should continue the same scenario, all the while stressing the importance of regular brushing.
They aren’t too young to develop a good brushing habit.
Brushing for age 3- to 5-year-olds
For preschoolers, you can step up the routine a bit. It’s likely that they have all 20 baby teeth by the time they’re three years old so you can now use about a pea-sized portion of fluoride toothpaste for brushing.
Ask your dentist about the proper toothbrush for this age group. But at 3 years-old, it isn’t necessarily time to surrender the toothbrush to your child. They’ll still need help with the task of brushing teeth. A routine like this should work:
• Sit or stand behind your child in front of a mirror, which allows both you and your child a good look at their mouth.
• Cup your child’s chin in your hands and let his/her head rest against your body.
• Moving the brush in circles, gently brush the inner and outer sides of the teeth and gums and end by brushing your child’s tongue.
• Encourage your child to spit out any excess toothpaste that remains behind. There’s no need to rinse!
Brushing for age 5 to 8 years-old
Most dentists recommend that you supervise your child’s brushing until at least 8 years old. However, once your child turns 6, you can switch to regular adult fluoride toothpaste, but still limit the portion you’re placing on the brush.
You can continue to brush your child’s teeth the way you did for your preschooler, but it really is okay to give them some responsibility at this time and merely function as an overseer, unless you really notice that they’re slacking.
Be sure your school-aged child brushes both in the morning and at nighttime before bed. If your pediatric dentist recommends it, they may be able to start flossing at this point as well. It’s likely that they’ll also have a number of gaps in their mouth where baby teeth have fallen out and adult teeth are yet to fully erupt. Make sure those spots are tended to as well.
Brushing after 9-years-old
Once your child has reached about age 9, he or she should be able to brush on their own, especially if you’ve instructed them properly up to this point.
To make it more likely that they will adhere to good dental hygiene habits, let them do things like pick their own toothbrush and their favorite flavor of toothpaste. Be creative, like encouraging them to play their favorite 2-minute song on their phone or other device to time their brushing.
Continue other aspects of good dental hygiene by serving healthy foods, helping them avoid sweets, and modeling good behavior like brushing in their presence and scheduling regular dentist appointments for you and your entire family.
For more help with the specifics of caring for your child’s teeth, including learning how to brush, talk to your pediatric dentist or a member of our staff at your next visit at Anchorage Pediatric Dentistry.
Please call us at (907)562-1003 to schedule an appointment! We look forward to seeing you!