How to Teach Kids to Brush Their Teeth


Your preschooler probably doesn't jump for joy about dental hygiene. However, when it is time to graduate from parent brushing to doing it himself, tooth brushing gimmicks can turn brushing his own teeth into a fun game with healthy teeth as the end benefit. Explain to an older preschooler that when he eats, food sticks to his teeth and if he doesn't brush them clean, the "sugar bugs" will think it is a party and come for the food, which weakens his teeth and causes little holes, called cavities, that can make his teeth hurt. Cavities also mean he has to see the dentist more frequently to fill up the holes and prevent the bugs from moving in permanently. Most kids won't relish the idea of frequent dentist visits or tooth pain, so the story provides a reason of why he should brush his teeth.

Things You'll Need

  • Soft bristle toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Timer or three-minute song
  • Stuffed animal, doll or action figure, optional
  • Progress chart and stickers
  • Select a soft bristle toothbrush that appeals to your child's interests. For example, let your child choose a brush that features her favorite TV character. Some children may generate more enthusiasm for brushing their teeth with an electric toothbrush. If you have a drinking fountain-style faucet, using it for your child's oral hygiene ritual can up the motivational fun factor. Let your child try out some different toothpastes and choose one that she likes. Ask your dentist and pediatrician for approval before introducing fluoride toothpaste to young children, recommends the University of Minnesota Oral Health Zone.

  • Set the example for your child to imitate. Explain each step including wetting the brush, putting the toothpaste on the brush and brushing each section of your mouth. Make it a game of "Simon Says.” For example, say, "Simon says brush your bottom front teeth, front side. Simon says switch to the back side of your front teeth." Brush together twice a day, letting your child copy what you are doing. Taking a turn being the parent to his favorite stuffed animal, doll or action figure and directing it how to brush its teeth can make the learning process more entertaining as well.

  • Demonstrate how to wash your hands before brushing and apply a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush. Show your child how to brush in a circular motion around the gum line and brush the fronts, backs and chewing surfaces of all teeth -- top and bottom, right and left molars and front teeth -- as well as his tongue and the roof of the mouth for at least 30 seconds per section. Instruct him to spit out the saliva and toothpaste that accumulates in his mouth rather than swallowing it. With young children, you may want to guide her hand at first before letting her try it independently.

  • Help your child keep track of brushing time and make it fun by brushing to a certain song, hummed, sung or recorded. Teaching your child to brush for the duration of a three-minute song exercises his time sense and ensures that he brushes long and thoroughly enough to do some good. Using a timer is another way to help your child mark the time to ensure proper oral hygiene.

Tips & Warnings

  • KidsHealth recommends brushing after breakfast and before bedtime at minimum. When possible, teach your child to also brush after lunch and sweet snacks to break down plaque more rapidly.
  • Some children may find motivation in placing stickers on a progress chart every time they brush their teeth.
  • Replace your child's toothbrush about every three months or when the bristles are bent, flared or frayed.
  • You can help your child establish good dental health by limiting soda, juice and snack intake, not allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle and having regular dental checkups.
  • Fluoride toothpaste or supplements with children under 2 years of age can be toxic and stain teeth, warns the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Use only if recommended by your child's dentist or primary care doctor.
  • Emphasize that your child should not share her toothbrush with anyone else or use anyone else's to avoid sharing germs.


  • Photo Credit Getty Images/Photodisc/Getty Images
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