Brushing Your Child’s Teeth

Brushing your child’s teeth can be a struggle, but there are simple strategies to make the process easier for everyone.
First, use a position that prevents your child from wiggling while giving you a free hand to move their lips or cheeks so you can see. Here are some proven positions that work:

Attack plaque from the back!

Stand behind rather than in front of your child (you may have to get down on one knee).

  • Have your child tilt his or her chin up and look at the sky.
  • Rest your child’s head against your shoulder or against your upper arm.
  • Place your arms on either side of your child’s head.
  • Use the hand not holding the toothbrush to pull back your child’s lips or cheek so you can see. (figure 1)

As your child grows, you may find it easier to sit on a chair or couch and have your child sit on the floor between your legs, with his or her head tilted back. (figure 2)

Knee to knee is hassle-free

If your child is very young or uncooperative, you may wish to have another person help you. Together, you can use the knee-to-knee technique. (figure 3)

  • Sit on a chair facing another seated adult, with your knees touching.
  • Position your child on your lap, facing you, with their legs around your waist.
  • Lay your child down on your lap, hold his or her hands, and maintain eye contact and conversation.
  • Have the other adult brush the child’s teeth.

Second, remember that a healthy mouth depends on proper toothbrushing technique. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Use a small, soft toothbrush that can easily reach to the back of your child’s mouth.
  • Place a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste on the brush (the size of a grain of rice for very young children under the age of three or the size of a green pea for older children).
  • Brush all surfaces of all teeth.
  • If your child is uncooperative, use short back-and-forth strokes or small circles when you brush.
  • With very cooperative children, you may wish to use a sweeping motion, starting from the gumline and brushing away from the gums in the direction that the teeth grow). Remember to brush both the cheek and tongue surfaces of the teeth. (figure 4)
  • Next brush back and forth on the biting surfaces of the back teeth.
  • Use your fingers to move the lips and cheeks so you can see what you are doing. (figure 5)