Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. As soon as the teeth begin to appear, start brushing twice daily using a “pea-sized” amount of fluoridated toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. As children become toddlers they will have the inclination to try and brush their teeth by themselves. However, in this 2-5 year old age group you should still perform or assist with your child’s toothbrushing still using only a "pea-size" amount of toothpaste. Young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively and assistance will be very important. It is fine to let them go ahead and brush their teeth and then follow behind to “touch up” the areas that were missed. The general rule we always use for determining when a child is able to brush their teeth effectively is that if they can tie their own shoes then they can brush their own teeth. Children that can tie their own shoes should have the manual dexterity necessary to effectively clean their own teeth. Once your children begin brushing their own teeth parents still need to monitor to make sure that children are brushing correctly. Everyone should brush their teeth 2-3 times daily for 2 minutes each time. It is very important to brush before bedtime and after your child brushes before going to bed they should not have anything else to eat or drink besides water.
The key to brushing a young child’s teeth is the brushing position. If you have two people available to help with brushing then that is ideal. Two people can brush a child’s teeth in the knee to knee position. The two adults should sit facing each other with their knees almost touching. The child can sit in one adult’s lap facing them. Then, the child can be leaned back onto the lap of the other adult providing easy access for brushing. If there is just one adult available for brushing then you can try to have your child lie down on a bed with his/her head in your lap. Another alternative is to have you child sit with his/her body between your legs and his/her head tilted back into your arms. It is a lot easier to brush young children’s teeth in these above mentioned positions than trying to brush with them standing with the parent coming from directly in front of the child.
The teeth should be brushed gently using small circular motions. Make sure that the areas where the teeth meet the gums are including in the circular motions to ensure that the gums stay health as well. For brushing to most effective every time it can be helpful to develop a brushing sequence that can be repeated every time. Start by brushing the outside surfaces of all of the teeth. Next brush the inside surfaces of all of the teeth. Finally, brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth. Remember to use small circular motions and take two minutes to brush your teeth. If children are having a hard time brushing for the whole two minutes then consider using a timer and playing a song that they like for two minutes while they brush. There are many toothbrushes that can be purchased that will play music for two minutes while you brush your teeth.
Flossing should be a very important part of your child’s oral hygiene regimen. When the teeth touch together a toothbrush will not reach areas between the teeth. It is very important that these areas where teeth touch are cleaned very well because they are prone to getting cavities if left uncleaned. Any teeth that touch together should be flossed. One product that is very good for flossing a young child’s teeth is a floss holder. Position your child as described above in the toothbrushing technique section. Floss in between all of the teeth that touch together. This should be done each time your child brushes or at minimum floss after brushing at night.
For young children it is always best to consult your dentist before you begin using fluoridated toothpaste. When we consult with parents regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste we recommend that you use a small pea sized amount of toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth once the first teeth erupt. If your child is too young to understand about spitting out the excess toothpaste then you can use a damp cloth to wipe out the excess toothpaste. If you are using a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste then the amount that your child could swallow is minimal. Children should always be supervised to make sure that they are not swallowing a lot of the toothpaste that they use.
Fluoride mouth rinses can also be effective in cavity reduction for children that are at high risk for cavities. If your child had cavities previously or any of your child’s siblings have had cavities previously then the use of a fluoride mouthrinse can be very advantageous. A very good fluoride mouthrinse to use is ACT. It is very important that only children that will spit out the mouthrinse should use a fluoride mouthrinse.