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How to Brush Your Teeth:
A Guide for Parents and Children

If you are reading this as an adult, it may be hard for you to remember what it was like to learn how to brush your teeth when you were a small child. Now that you are a parent and need to teach your own children how to take care of their teeth and gums, you might be wondering what to do and where to begin.

As always, our children’s dental specialists at Ironwood Dental are happy to answer any questions you have as you navigate the world of children’s tooth brushing. Call us at (480) 422-4544 or set up an appointment online to receive expert-level dental care and advice for your child.

Until then, this article will teach you what you need to know to help your children to learn healthy tooth brushing habits that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Tooth Care Before Baby Teeth Eruption

Food residue and bacteria can cling to your child’s gums even before the primary or “baby” teeth appear. This makes early dental care important as soon as just a few days after childbirth, because cleaning away this breeding ground material from your child’s gums will prevent plaque from forming on them.

Infant gum cleaning is fairly simple. You can use a piece of soft cloth or gauze, moistening them first before wiping your infant’s gums. Toothpaste is not needed at this point because the baby teeth have not erupted yet. Do this at least twice daily, preferably after feedings and before putting your child to bed. 

Tooth Brushing and Flossing of Baby Teeth

As soon as you begin to see your child’s first baby teeth begin to emerge, and certainly no later than age two or three, it is time to begin his or her training on how to use a toothbrush. 

What You Will Need to Have

A Children’s Toothbrush

The first thing you will need is a soft-bristled toothbrush that is made for small children. These toothbrushes have soft, rounded bristles, a smaller brush head to fit into a toddler’s smaller mouth, and a large handle for small hands to grasp comfortably.

You should replace your child’s toothbrush every three months or more frequently if the brush shows signs of wear.

Fluoride Toothpaste

You can choose from many brands of toothpaste. You can use any kind of toothpaste as part of your child’s toothbrush training. The effective ingredient cavity prevention ingredient, fluoride, will be present in the same concentration in an American Dental Association-approved  toothpaste made for adults or children.

What makes a children’s toothpaste different from adult toothpaste is usually in the toothpaste flavoring. Kids’ toothpastes will often be flavored so they will be more appealing to children’s tastes.

Dental Floss

You can use any kind of dental floss with your child’s baby teeth. Because your child’s mouth is small, this can make it harder for you or your child to reach into the mouth with fingers to do ordinary flossing. Many kinds of flossing sticks and other flossing devices are available to make flossing of small mouths easier. Some of these are marketed as children’s flossers.

dental hygiene toolkit. toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, dental floss


What You Will Need to Do

Just like when you learned how to brush your teeth, chances are that when your child is younger than three, you will have to brush his or her teeth until he or she becomes old enough to understand you and to help on his or her own behalf. 

  • Use a gentle, back and forth motion, holding the brush at about a 45-degree angle to the teeth and gum line and moving the brush head with short strokes. Hold the brush vertical to the chewing surfaces of the molars and along the incisors.


  • Be sure to clean the back surfaces of the teeth and the tongue, as these are both places that children can neglect to clean, allowing plaque to build up over time.


  • Spend at least two minutes brushing, making sure to cover all the teeth on the inside, outside, and on the crowns and surfaces.


  • Pay special attention to the back molars, as these are the hardest teeth to reach and are also where plaque tends to build up the most.

Later, when your child has grown enough to be able to hold his or her own toothbrush, you can let your child take the lead in brushing.

When helping your child to learn toothbrushing skills, begin by putting a small amount of fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush. For kids whose baby teeth are just beginning to erupt, a dab of toothpaste no larger than a grain of rice is enough. As children grow older, to around three years of age, you can increase the toothpaste amount up to the size of a pea.

When your children are learning to brush, you will have to work with them to make sure they do a thorough job and to clean up any spots they miss.

Ultimately, your goal is to develop in your children a habit of brushing and flossing twice a day and after eating, like when you learned how to brush your teeth. This can be challenging to do, but here are some things you can do to encourage your children to see tooth brushing as a positive and pleasant experience:

  • Brush your children’s teeth at the same regular intervals. Make it easy to develop a consistent habit of brushing, especially before bed time.


  • Brush your teeth at the same time as your child’s tooth brushing. Children naturally want to emulate their parents, so if they see you brushing regularly and get to participate themselves, this can help to establish strong dental hygiene habits early.


  • Give your children a sense of control over tooth brushing and flossing. Let them choose their own toothbrushes, flossers, and toothpaste. Let them brush their teeth unassisted at first, helping only to make sure they do a complete cleaning. The more children believe that an activity is their idea instead of something they “have” to do because they are being told to do it, the more enthusiastic their participation will be and the more likely they will keep at it.


  • Carefully observe your child’s teeth for signs of tooth decay, like white or brown-colored spots on the teeth or signs of pitting of the tooth enamel. This can give you an idea of places to help your child work on to ensure proper cleaning of the whole mouth, and enable you to have any cavities treated early before they can cause serious damage.


When your children reach about the age of six years old, you can help them graduate to brushing their teeth on their own. You can also introduce them to mouth rinses at this time.

Tooth Brushing with Braces

If your child is lucky enough not to need braces once his or her permanent teeth come in, then the tooth brushing habits above will remain effective into adulthood. If your child is one of the 40 percent of children who will need braces, then the presence of those brackets, arch wires, and elastic bands poses a new challenge to keeping teeth clean by brushing and flossing.

But how long are you supposed to brush your teeth with braces? How do you reach all the surfaces of your teeth? If you don’t have any personal experience to pass on to your child in the area of learning how to properly brush your teeth with braces, don’t worry—here are some tooth brushing techniques your child with braces can use to clean teeth and braces efficiently and thoroughly.

Before Brushing

Rinsing the mouth with water will help to remove lingering food particles from the braces.

Choosing a toothbrush to use with braces involves some special considerations:

  • Look for an interdental, angled brush that will allow the brush head to clean around brackets and wires.


  • Electric toothbrushes are acceptable for use with braces, but their bristles can tend to get caught in the braces more often than a manual toothbrush, so increased brush wear could occur.

How to Properly Brush Teeth With Braces

Brushing the teeth in general involves approaching them from three directions: inside, outside, and from the top. When learning how to brush your teeth with braces (or your child’s teeth) there’s one more angle: the bottom of the brace brackets need to be cleaned, too.

Here is a methodical approach to making sure that for children wearing braces, all the surfaces that need brushing receive the attention they need:

  1. Brush the outer side of the teeth using the same back-and-forth motion as with regular brushing. For the braces brackets, use a circular motion, spending 25 to 30 seconds on each bracket.


  2. Brush the inside surfaces of the teeth and braces using the same techniques in step 1 above.


  3. Brush the chewing surfaces and crowns of the teeth and the tops of the brace brackets, using a combination of back-and-forth and circular brush motions.


  4. Finally, position the toothbrush bristles so they face upward and brush underneath the brackets on the outside and then the inside of the teeth.
how to properly brush teeth with braces


How to Properly Floss With Braces

Because of the way that brackets and wires fill in the spaces between teeth, conventional flossing with braces can be difficult and only marginally effective. Some devices exist that your child can use to floss with braces, like floss threaders to help thread the floss underneath the brackets and water flossers that use jets of water to clean out food particles that a toothbrush leaves behind.

Rinsing the mouth out with water or a dental rinse (mouthwash) after flossing is another way to remove any last food particles and to reduce the amount of plaque-causing bacteria in the mouth.

Make Ironwood Dental Your Ally in Keeping Your Child’s Dental Health

When you consider all the things you can give to your children early on that will benefit them throughout their lives, introducing them to the habit of regular brushing and flossing is one of the most important life lessons you can teach.

Toothbrushing, coupled with regular dental check-ups starting around age five, can reduce the overall cost of your child’s dental treatment by almost half compared to children who do not develop sound oral hygiene habits early.

Clean teeth are much more likely to be healthy teeth. Healthy teeth mean fewer dental problems like tooth decay and gum disease. Fewer dental problems mean lower dental bills for you.

The advantages of teaching your kids the habit of regular tooth brushing go beyond saving you money. Clean, white, healthy teeth are the foundation of an attractive smile. When your children are growing up, having a pleasing smile goes a long way toward making making friends easier. And when they are older, that same attractive smile can help to attract a life partner.

It is never too early to begin to teach your kids good dental habits, starting with regular tooth brushing and flossing. At Ironwood Dental, we strongly recommend you to take the information you see here and put it into practice starting today.

If you have any questions about how to get your children started with the healthy habit of regular tooth brushing—or any other question about their dental health—you can ask us here and we will reply to you, or you can set up an appointment online if you prefer. Or, call us at (480) 422-4544 to talk with one of our children’s dental health specialists at our Scottsdale, Arizona office.

Whether it is to ask a question or to schedule a consultation with one of our friendly child dentists at our child-friendly pediatric dental office, we are your ally when it comes to giving your children the gift of a lifetime: lasting oral health. We can help to encourage good tooth brushing habits in your children. And if you have your kids check in with us twice a year like the American Dental Association recommends, we can spot and take care of any problems that good brushing cannot prevent, like child orthodontics.