How to teach your child to brush their teeth correctly for life

The incidence of dental caries in preschool aged children is on the rise. While there are several contributing factors, the most important thing you can do to prevent cavities and gum disease is to regularly practice good oral hygiene habits. However, one of the things that parents find most challenging is how to get their child to cooperate for brushing and flossing daily.

Teaching children to brush the correct way can be even more daunting. The truth is that it is not always an easy task to get your child to view oral care as more than a daily chore. The following tips will help you teach your child healthy and regular oral hygiene practices that they will take with them into adulthood.


Cartoon with check mark

  • start early
  • demonstrate the proper way to care for teeth
  • place your child in the proper position
  • make it part of the routine
  • make brushing fun

Cartoon with x mark

  • expect it to be easy all the time
  • make it habit of letting your child skip brushing
  • start too late at night
  • forget that you have a major ally in the game: the dentist
  • be a bad role model

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do start early

Good oral health should begin during infancy and certainly by the time your child’s first tooth makes an appearance. Start by wiping your baby’s gums and first teeth with a soft cloth after each feeding. As your child develops more teeth and the back molars begin to form, you may start to use a long-handled soft toothbrush to brush his teeth in the morning after breakfast and before bed. The habits you form very early on as an infant will become firmly established as your child grows into a toddler and throughout childhood, when he will become responsible for his own oral hygiene habits.

Do demonstrate the proper way to care for teeth

The best way to do a comprehensive demo of how to brush is by brushing your own teeth. Show your child the correct amount of fluoride toothpaste to place on the toothbrush. According to the newest guidelines from the American Dental Association, you should begin using fluoride toothpaste in your child’s mouth as soon as his first tooth appears. The amount will vary by age. If your child is under 3 years old you should use a tiny smear the size of a grain of rice. Children between 3 and 6 years of age should use a pea-sized amount.

Demonstrate the proper technique of brushing teeth in small circular motions, and describe how to angle the brush to reach the gum line. Show your child how to reach the back teeth and describe all the surfaces he should brush: the front, back and tops of the teeth. Show him how to properly rinse and spit the toothpaste. Lastly, demonstrate how the tongue should be brushed. This way your child will know all the fundamental steps of brushing before you do it, then have him watch in the mirror as you brush his teeth.

Do place your child in the proper position

Toddlers love to mimic everything their parents do, so make this a fun activity by facing each other in a way that your child can see and copy your brushing technique. Facing each other is a good position for teaching, but when you wish to help brush your child’s teeth the most effective way is by standing behind your child. For example, have him stand on a stool in front of a mirror with you standing behind and tip his head backwards against your hip so that you can easily see his entire mouth as you are brushing.

This position will allow you to have more control of where you place the toothbrush and even eliminate brushing injuries in an uncooperative, wiggly kid. This position is also good for the “taking turns” method, where your child gets to face the mirror to brush his own teeth, and then you can take over and finish brushing the areas that he may have not been able to reach.

Do make it part of the routine

Much like taking vitamins, brushing and flossing are habits that are best formed when they are done at the same time of the day, everyday. If you vary when you brush your teeth it will be easier to lose track and forget to do it. Making it part of a routine such as bath time, for example, will not only make it easier for your child to remember to brush and floss his teeth but he will begin to expect it. He may even come to remind you about it if you happen to slip and forget!

Do make brushing fun

There are several ways to make brushing a fun activity. You can have your toddler brush his favorite stuffed animal before he brushes his own teeth. There are also many aids that you can use, such as interactive books and videos to practice. In this age of technology, brushing and oral care has even found its place in IPad games and apps.

Making brushing a game is also quite effective. Have a talk about the cause of cavities and the role that “sugar bugs” or “plaque monsters” have in causing cavities and toothaches. By doing so, you not only make it fun to eliminate and say “bye-bye, sugar bugs,” but you also make it clear that not brushing properly or regularly can have consequences. Plaque indicators in the form of a rinse or tablets can show him the areas where he is missing and where the “sugar bugs” are still hiding, providing a great tool in teaching your kid how to brush thoroughly.

Giving your independent child a choice in the process also makes it less boring. There are a myriad of dental products available from colored flossers to toothpaste flavors to different types of toothbrushes with different features and an array of colors. By giving him the choice of what he wants to use that day it will make him look forward to brushing. When helping your child stay on track and brush properly for the required 2 minutes it helps to use fun methods such as singing a song, using a tooth timer or buying a toothbrush that lights up for the duration.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not expect it to be easy all the time

Your child may resist in the beginning, but this has more to do with the fact that they may not be able to comprehend why brushing is important. Just as his cognitive functions are developing, so are his fine motor skills. You should manage your expectations accordingly. Don’t expect your child to immediately become adept at brushing every tooth and every surface perfectly. Be patient. Teaching your child to brush his teeth is a process that spans years, past preschool age and into late childhood. Remember that although you should begin to teach him to brush very early, it is recommended that you continue to supervise and help him until he is 6-8 years old.

Do not make it habit of letting your child skip brushing

Many frustrated parents realize that getting their child to cooperate with brushing can vary from very easy and fun, to very difficult at other times. Praising your child when he does a good job is just as effective as being firm with him when he resists. Send a clear and consistent message that brushing is a necessary part of the day and should not be skipped. Giving in to excuses of tiredness or being too busy will only create bad habits and make it difficult to reinforce good oral health practices.

Do not start too late at night

If your child is having trouble brushing at night because he is too sleepy or cranky, begin your brushing activity after dinner or at some time earlier in the evening. They will be more attentive and focused, making your job easier and more likely that he will be an active versus unwilling participant.

Do not forget that you have a major ally in the game: the dentist

You should not feel like you are alone in the process. In fact, you should rely on an expert’s help. A thorough dentist visit should include time set aside to either teach oral hygiene instruction for the first time, or review it every 6 months. The dentist or hygienist will use different methods of showing you and your child the most appropriate way to take care of his teeth. A good dentist will also make sure your child is attentive by asking him to demonstrate what he has learned, and will provide active feedback.

Remember that your child’s dentist is an authoritative figure and having her teach brushing habits to your child may carry more weight. It can also be very rewarding for your child to get an encouraging high-five from the doctor in the white coat when he is has a positive check up and has proven that he has been doing a good job brushing and flossing. Bringing your child to the dentist every 6 months will also assure that his good oral hygiene habits are reinforced continuously.

Do not be a bad role model

It will be much more difficult for your child to get on a regular schedule of brushing and flossing if you are not portraying the same behavior yourself. Your child will be more likely to protest flossing if he observes that you skip flossing regularly. You have to provide an example of good oral hygiene in order to reinforce it in your child. It is even more effective when you brush teeth together and it can also give you some special bonding time in the day that your kid can look forward to.


Teaching your child how to take care of his teeth and keeping a regular schedule can sometimes seem like a difficult mission. However starting early, being consistent, and transforming the act of brushing and flossing into an entertaining activity can help you foster great habits in your child that he will continue as he grows. Most importantly, you are giving your child the necessary start he needs to achieve a lifetime of good oral health.

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