How to Brush Your Toddler’s Teeth

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month!  We are eager to provide you with useful information regarding your children’s dental health.  This week, we’ll focus on brushing your toddler’s teeth.

Toddlers can be difficult, to say the least.  The combination of increased mobility, a stubborn desire for independence and the entrance of new teeth can be the perfect storm for a nightly battle.  Developing a consistent pattern for oral hygiene is extremely important in your toddler’s earliest years.  Without exercising this essential routine, you could be the recipient of bad news at your toddler’s first dental visit.

Why Should I Brush My Toddler’s Teeth?

Baby teeth can get cavities just as easily as permanent teeth can, and once started, cavities actually grow faster in baby teeth.  This is because baby teeth have only a thin layer of enamel covering them.  It is easier for bacteria to penetrate through this thinner layer and move into the teeth.

Parents are often shocked to see large holes in their children’s teeth that seem to develop overnight.  While it’s not quite that fast, the cavity process is faster in baby teeth than in permanent teeth.

When Should I Start Brushing My Toddler’s Teeth?

You should begin brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as you see a tooth.  This can be as early as six months of age.  When the first baby tooth protrudes through the gums, you should begin cleaning it with an infant toothbrush or even just a soft washcloth.  Babies do not develop much plaque, and it is soft and very simple to remove.

Starting early gives you the advantage of getting your child accustomed to the process before they are big enough or mobile enough to squirm away from you.  It is good for your child to experience oral hygiene from the earliest age possible in order for him to accept it as a necessary part of your bedtime routine.

What is the Best Way to Brush My Toddler’s Teeth?

The easiest way to brush your toddler’s teeth is to use a continuation of the method you would use on an immobile infant.  Have the child lay down and look down into his or her mouth.  You can sit on the couch and have your child lay with his head in your lap.  Some also like to sit on the floor cross-legged so that the back of the child’s head is toward your stomach.  The goal is to be able to look into the child’s mouth and easily visualize all of the teeth.

Make sure to use an age-appropriate toothbrush.  This means it must be small enough for the child’s mouth and use very soft bristles.  You do NOT need to wet the toothbrush.  As your child lays down, excessive water would only run down his throat.

When you brush, it is helpful to sing a song or say the ABCs to distract your child.  You should develop a pattern that you follow consistently.  For example, start on the upper right and brush all of the upper teeth before moving on to the lower.  Make sure you cover all exposed surfaces, getting the cheek-side, the tongue-side, and the biting surface.  Keep in mind that your toddler will only have a maximum of 20 teeth, so this should not take more than a minute.

Your child can rinse and spit if he wants to, but it’s not necessary.

Should I Use Toothpaste when Brushing My Toddler’s Teeth?


The American Association of Pediatric Dentists recommends using a small amount of fluoride-containing toothpaste for children of all ages now.  For a toddler, it should be a quick smear or the amount of a grain of rice.  You do not need much, and you don’t want to add water and create a lot of foaming.    You can allow your child to choose the flavor so that he or she has some say in the oral hygiene process.

If your child likes to brush his or her own teeth, make sure that you brush first, and only afterward give them the toothbrush.

More Questions about Toddler Oral Hygiene?

Call Timberlake Dental today to schedule a visit with Dr. Chowning or one of our great dental hygienists.  We can answer any question you may have about caring for your toddler’s teeth.