The Cleveland Clinic

Brushing and Flossing Your Child's Teeth

Teeth should be cleaned as soon as they emerge. By starting early, your baby gets used to the daily routine. A soft washcloth wrapped around your finger can substitute for a brush at this time. Ask your dentist when you should switch to a toothbrush. Some dentists suggest waiting until four teeth in a row have emerged, others recommend waiting until the child is 2 or 3 years old.

Simple brushing tips and considerations include:

  • Choose a small, child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush. Soaking the brush in warm water for a few minutes before brushing can soften the bristles even more.
  • Many dentists recommend using only plain water for brushing up to the age of 2. This is because young children swallow toothpaste and swallowing too much fluoride can lead to tooth discoloration in permanent teeth. Ask your dentist if toothpaste should be used. Also, check the manufacturer's label; some toothpastes are not recommended in children under age 6. If a toothpaste is to be used, squeeze out about a green pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste onto the toothbrush.
  • Brush your child's teeth twice a day ? in the morning and just before bed. Spend 2 minutes brushing, concentrating a good portion of this time on the back molars. This is an area where cavities often first develop.
  • Replace the toothbrush every 3 or 4 months, or even sooner if it shows signs of wear. Never share toothbrushes between children.
  • Start flossing your child's teeth once a day as soon as two teeth emerge that touch.
  • Ask your dentist about your child's fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
  • Ask your dentist about dental sealants. These are thin, plastic protective barriers that fill in the chewing surfaces of the teeth, protecting them from tooth decay.