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.

When Should Children Brush and Floss their Teeth on Their Own?

Most children lack the coordination to brush or floss their teeth on their own until about the age of 6 or 7. Up until this time, remember that the best way to teach a child how to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Allowing your child to watch you brush your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene. Not only does this set a good example, it's also a good oral hygiene practice. By reducing your own oral bacterial count, parents reduce the risk of passing cavity-causing bacteria to the child.

How Safe is Fluoride for My Child?

Fluoride is safe for children. Fluoride is a natural mineral that protects and strengthens the teeth against the formation of cavities. Using it early in your child's life will provide extra protection for developing teeth. Find out if your tap water contains fluoride by calling your local water authority. If your tap water does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist about the need for fluoride drops for infants or other fluoride supplements.

Do Home Faucet Filters Remove Fluoride?

There is a wide variation in water filters. Some do filter out fluoride; others do not. Check with the manufacturer of the filter you have purchased or have the water tested by a laboratory that does this type of testing.

Does It Matter What Toothpaste My Child Uses?

Many children's toothpastes are flavored with child-pleasing tastes to further encourage brushing. Select your child's favorite. Also, look for toothpastes that carry the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance. This indicates that the toothpaste has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Finally, read the manufacturer's label. Some toothpastes are not recommended for children under a certain age.

Can My Child Use a Mouthwash?

Generally, mouthwashes are not recommended in children who are incapable of spitting and rinsing ? skills that occur around the age of 6. It's important to note that mouthwashes are not a substitute for brushing. Mouthwashes do not help clean the teeth.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Dentistry.
Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD, April 2003, WebMD.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2003


Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 6:18:33 AM




STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!