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How to Teach Children to Brush Their Teeth

Starting from a young age and brushing together are the keys to success
Read Time: 4 minutes
Sep 19, 2022

Learning to brush your teeth is a vital step of child development. When a child knows how to brush their teeth, they can feel more independent and confident in their abilities and start their lifelong dental hygiene journey.

When Should I Teach My Child to Brush Their Teeth?

It’s never too early to start showing your child how to brush their teeth, as we’ll show in the next few steps. But generally speaking, children should learn how to brush their teeth on their own around age 3, and be independently brushing their teeth by age 4.

A boy has somebody else brush his teeth with a blue toothbrush

How to Teach Kids Before They’re Independent

Kids won’t be able to brush their teeth on their own until they develop the fine motor skills necessary to hold a toothbrush and make the necessary movements needed to brush effectively. But you can still teach your child how to brush before they’re ready to do it on their own.

Tip #1

Explain What You’re Doing When You Brush Their Teeth

Before they’re ready to brush their teeth, you’ll have to brush your child’s teeth. You’ll have to do this countless times before they’re ready, so it’s best to make the most out of it! Narrate what you’re doing so they can better understand how to brush and why it’s important. Repetition and clear communication are key.

A woman with a ponytail brushes her teeth against a bright yellow background

Tip #2

Show Them How You Brush Your Own Teeth

Many kids take after their parents and love to mimic their actions, so why not show your child how you brush your own teeth? When you show them how you brush, they can pick up on how to use the brush in their own mouths.

Tip #3

Brush Your Teeth Together

Kids thrive on routines, and like to know what to expect at the start and end of every day. Build brushing into your routine and try to brush together. Even if you’re still brushing your child’s teeth, you can brush your teeth after or while your partner brushes your child’s teeth. Making it a family activity can show your child the importance of brushing.

How to Develop the Skills for Independent Brushing

There’s no rush for children to be entirely independent brushers, and we recommend supervising your child’s brushing until you’re completely confident they can do it by themselves. You can also continue brushing together while they get the hang of it. Here are a few tips for helping your child learn the basics of brushing.

Tip #1

Practice, Practice, Practice

As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Most kids learn best by doing, so it’s best to give your kid lots of opportunities to practice and try out brushing even before they can do it perfectly. This is also a great opportunity to correct their mistakes and show them how to brush properly.

Tip #2

Make Brushing Fun

Kids will most likely enjoy brushing with you as a family activity in and of itself, but there are other ways that you can make brushing more fun. To teach kids that they should brush for two minutes, try playing a song of their choice for two minutes. You can also have competitions, like trying to make the most toothpaste bubbles or having a smile-off in the mirror while you’re done.

A red toothbrush with white bristles against a blue background

Tip #3

Let Kids Pick out Their Own Tools

Usually, kids will be more interested in brushing their teeth if they can pick out their own tools. Let them pick out a toothbrush and toothpaste of their own from the store to help them get inspired to use them. Be sure to pick a child-sized toothbrush that’s easier for little hands to hold and better for kid-sized teeth.

Choose Kid-Friendly Toothpaste Flavors

You can also try different flavors of toothpaste to make your child interested in brushing, like:

  • Watermelon
  • Bubblegum
  • Strawberry
  • Marshmallow
  • Grape
  • Blue raspberry

Tip #4

Refresh Your Own Memory on Proper Brushing Techniques

It might be a while since you as a parent have had a refresher on how to brush your teeth. Keep these things in mind when teaching your child:

  • Brush gently along the gum line, holding the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle
  • Make sure to brush each individual tooth during your session
  • Start brushing at the base of each tooth and brush towards the chewing surface
  • Use short, small motions
  • Brush the tongue back to front

A little girl with ponytails brushing her teeth

Tip #5

Show Them How Much Toothpaste to Use

Learning to brush your teeth also comes with learning how to squeeze toothpaste onto the brush. This can be a hard task for many young children, so it’s best to show them how to do it many times before they do it themselves.

Children might also want to use a large amount of toothpaste, but it’s best to use a very small amount, especially for children. The American Dental Association recommends using a “smear” of toothpaste, which should be about the size of a grain of rice.

Following up With a Dentist

You don’t have to do this all on your own. Be sure to take your child to the dentist to review brushing habits. Your dentist can also tell you spots where you and your child may be missing, or show you specific movements to try. And ensuring your child’s teeth are cleaned by a dentist regularly is a crucial step to their prolonged dental hygiene.

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For informational purposes only.