The oral hygiene habits kids learn when they’re young are habits that will stick with them for a lifetime. Children who understand the importance of taking care of their teeth and gums and take a proactive role in their dental health have a lower risk of cavities and gum disease as they get older. One of the first steps in instilling good oral hygiene habits in children is brushing their teeth. But when should you start brushing baby teeth? And when can kids start doing it themselves? We answer these questions and more in the blog post below.
The Basics on Brushing Baby Teeth
The best time to start a brushing habit with your child is before their baby teeth even erupt! In the morning and every night after they finish nursing or bottle-feeding for the day, use a clean, wet washcloth to gently rub their gums. This reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth, and it also helps prepare babies for the feeling of having their teeth brushed.
As soon as the first tooth erupts, you can switch from a washcloth to a toothbrush. When you bring your child to our office for their first dental visit, we’ll provide you with an appropriate toothbrush to use; if you buy one yourself, look for one with soft bristles and a small head. There are a number of innovative baby toothbrushes on the market that you may want to try, too—some popular options fit on your finger for easy brushing, have bristles on two sides so the upper and lower arches can be brushed at the same time, or have flexible silicone bristles.
The Canadian Dental Association encourages an individualized approach when it comes to using fluoridated toothpaste in children up to 3 years of age. Those who are at a higher risk of tooth decay should use fluoride toothpaste (only a small bit the size of a grain of rice is needed), while those who are not can use a toothbrush moistened with water. Once a child reaches 3, they can begin using a dot of fluoride toothpaste the size of a green pea. Your child’s dentist can help you decide whether fluoride toothpaste is needed.
When Should Kids Start Brushing Their Own Teeth?
There’s no rule for when kids can (or should) begin to brush their teeth without help from their parents. The best way to handle the transition is to slowly allow your child to do more of the brushing themselves. Toddlers are usually eager to brush without help, but parents will continue to play an important role, making sure little ones spit out their toothpaste instead of swallowing it and reach the fronts, backs, and chewing surfaces of all of their teeth when brushing.
When you feel your child is able to do a good job brushing on their own, you can take on a supervisory role to make sure they’re brushing well and doing so for a full two minutes. Some kids still need a little bit of supervision well into grade school, while others have diligent brushing habits at a young age. If your child struggles with brushing, let us know during their next appointment and we’ll brainstorm ideas to make it more fun for them!