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Brushing Up: Secrets to Instilling Good Dental Habits in Children From Day 1

by Yuyu. Published on .

Welcoming a new baby is an extraordinary time filled with numerous milestones, and one milestone that often gets overlooked is the journey to good oral health. While infant gums don't require a toothbrush, the foundation for a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums begins at birth.

Today, we explore the pivotal ways parents can set the stage for excellent dental hygiene from the start. You’ll learn everything from massaging baby gums to the art of making toothbrushing fun for a stubborn toddler.

This article aims to demystify the process and provide practical, actionable advice to ensure your child's smile is as radiant as their future.

Importance of Early Oral Care

Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children. Developing good oral hygiene habits from an early age is crucial for your child's overall health and wellbeing.

Cavities and tooth decay can negatively impact your child's ability to eat, speak, and sleep properly. Poor oral health is also linked to issues like chronic pain, low self-esteem, and reduced school performance.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children have their first dental visit by age 1. Starting oral care early allows you to identify problems and teach proper brushing and flossing techniques. This helps prevent painful cavities and costly dental work later on.

Establishing a dental hygiene routine early on makes it a normal part of your child's day.

When to Start Brushing Baby's Teeth

Even before your baby's first teeth come in, it's important to keep their gums clean and healthy. As soon as your baby is born, gently wipe their gums after each feeding with a soft, damp washcloth or piece of gauze. This removes leftover milk and residue and prevents bacteria from accumulating on the gums.

Once your baby's first tooth erupts, you can begin brushing. Use a soft-bristled baby toothbrush and water only. Avoid toothpaste until your child is able to spit it out, around age 2-3.

Gently brush all surfaces of each tooth in a circular motion. Make sure to get the tongue, roof of mouth, and gums as well.

Brushing should become part of your baby's daily routine, ideally after their last feeding of the day.

Brushing helps remove plaque and debris from new teeth and maintains healthy gums. This lays the foundation for a lifetime of good oral care. Even if your baby only has one or two teeth, get them used to having their teeth brushed now. This will make it much easier as more teeth erupt.

Choosing the Right Toothbrush

Selecting the right toothbrush is a key factor in promoting good oral hygiene for children. The toothbrush needs to be age appropriate in size, have soft bristles, and be replaced regularly.


Choose a toothbrush with a small head and a compact handle that allows your child to easily maneuver it around their mouth.

For ages 0-2, use an infant-sized toothbrush. Around age 3, graduate to a child-sized toothbrush.

The size of the head should correspond to about three teeth widths to allow brushing one tooth at a time.


Soft bristles are ideal for young children. Medium or hard bristles can be harsh on gums and developing teeth.

Soft bristles are gentle yet still remove plaque effectively. Look for toothbrushes labeled "soft."


Toothbrushes wear out and collect bacteria over time. For optimal cleaning, replace your child's toothbrush about every 3-4 months or after an illness.

Replace sooner if the bristles look frayed or worn. Investing in new toothbrushes ensures a healthy mouth.

Brush Teeth Twice Daily

Brushing teeth twice a day is crucial for preventing cavities and maintaining healthy teeth. Children's teeth should be brushed morning and night for at least two minutes each time.

When brushing your child's teeth, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Angle the brush at a 45-degree angle towards the gums. Gently brush in circular motions, covering all surfaces of the teeth.

Make sure to brush the front, back, top, and bottom. Don't forget to also brush the tongue, which harbors bacteria.

To make brushing engaging for kids, try using a musical toothbrush that plays songs for the duration of the 2-minute brushing timer. You can also use a sand timer so they can visualize the 2-minute goal.

Turn it into a game by having your child brush one section of their mouth at a time while you or an older sibling brushes the same section. See who can do the best job! Praise them for reaching the 2-minute mark.

Use Fluoridated Toothpaste

Fluoride is essential for strengthening tooth enamel and preventing cavities in children. The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend using fluoridated toothpaste as soon as the first tooth erupts.

For children under 3 years, use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. A young child's swallowing reflex is not fully developed, so too much toothpaste can be accidentally swallowed.

After age 3, increase the amount to about the size of the child's little fingernail. Continue monitoring brushing to ensure they don't use too much.

Fluoride is safe and effective for protecting teeth when used in the correct amount. If concerned, consult your pediatric dentist for the recommended quantity based on your child's age and weight.

Limiting sugary foods and drinks is also essential, as sugar interacts with bacteria in the mouth to produce acids that attack enamel. Fluoride helps strengthen enamel and offset this acid attack.

Establishing proper brushing habits with fluoride toothpaste from an early age is crucial for your child's oral health. Doing so protects teeth and wards off cavities as adult teeth start coming in.

Flossing Tips

Flossing is an important part of oral hygiene and should be introduced around ages 2-3 once most baby teeth have come in. Starting flossing early helps establish it as part of their daily routine.

Flossers with handles are a great option to make flossing easy for little hands. The floss is pre-threaded so you don't have to worry about tying it yourself. Demonstrate how to use a flosser on your own teeth first so they can see proper technique.

Hold the flosser handle between your thumb and index finger. Gently guide the floss between two teeth with a rubbing motion, curving it around the base of each tooth. Be very gentle, especially as their gums may be more sensitive. Move to the next space between teeth, using fresh floss each time. Make a habit of flossing before bedtime. Praise your child when they let you floss their teeth and turn it into a fun bonding experience.

Create a Routine

Establishing a consistent oral hygiene routine is key to ensuring your child brushes their teeth properly and regularly. Pick set times of the day for brushing, such as after breakfast and before bed. Try to brush at the same times daily to help create a habit.

You can make brushing fun and engaging by using stickers, songs, or apps with built-in timers as rewards.

Some ideas for rewards:

  • Let your child pick out fun stickers to mark their brushing accomplishment on a calendar or chart. They'll be excited to fill it up.

  • Play a 2-minute song while brushing. When the song ends, it's time to rinse. Kids love singing their favorite tunes.

  • Download an oral health app with a timer and fun graphics to hold your child's attention while brushing. Many include reward systems to motivate them.

Brushing doesn't need to feel like a chore. Making it fun and consistent goes a long way toward developing good habits.

Establish a set routine with your child and use creative rewards to encourage their participation. Over time, they'll brush diligently on their own in order to earn their prize.

Limit Sugary Foods and Drinks

Sugary foods and drinks are a major culprit behind tooth decay and cavities in children. While it may seem harmless to give your child juice or soda, these beverages can have disastrous effects on their oral health.

Here are some tips to limit sugar and promote dental health:

Avoid Juice and Soda

Fruit juices and sodas seem like healthy options, but they are loaded with sugar. The carbohydrates in these drinks feed the bacteria in the mouth, causing acid production that erodes tooth enamel.

Limit juice intake to no more than 4-6 oz per day with meals, and avoid soda entirely. Offer water to quench thirst instead.

Miami's Sweets
Photo by Alex Perex

Minimal Sweets

Candy, cookies, cakes - these tasty treats are sure to bring smiles but excess indulgence can lead to cavities.

Limit sweets to mealtimes or special occasions.

Opt for sugar-free gum or fruits as healthier dessert alternatives to reduce sugar intake. Avoid sticky candies that cling to teeth.

Rinse After Sugary Snacks

When kids do indulge in something sweet, have them rinse right after eating to wash away food debris and neutralize mouth acidity.

Swishing water around can prevent lingering sugar from causing damage. You can also brush teeth to clean away any sticky residues.

First Dental Visit by Age 1

Getting your child comfortable with the dentist early on is crucial for setting them up for a lifetime of good oral health. The American Dental Association recommends bringing babies to the dentist by their first birthday or when the first tooth erupts. This first visit is simply to get your child acquainted in a comfortable environment and allows the dentist to identify any potential issues early.

At this initial visit, the dentist will do a quick exam of your baby's mouth, check for signs of tooth decay, and look for developmental problems. This is a good chance for you to ask the dentist any questions you may have about caring for your child's teeth and gums. The key is making this first dental experience relaxed and fun so your child associates the dentist with a positive experience. Bringing them at this early age gets them used to the dental office and used to having someone look in their mouth.

Early detection and prevention is crucial for protecting your child's oral health.

It's important NOT to wait until your child has a dental problem or pain before their first visit. Starting regular dental visits by the first birthday allows the dentist to catch small problems before they become big issues.

Lead by Example

As a parent or caregiver, you play a crucial role in fostering good oral hygiene habits in your child. Children often emulate the behaviors they see in adults around them. Lead by example and make brushing and flossing a family activity.

Brush and floss together - Set a routine where you brush and floss alongside your child. Make it fun by singing songs or making silly faces in the mirror. Your child will come to see these activities as a normal part of their day.

Schedule family dental cleanings - Take your child with you to your dental cleanings. This familiarizes them with the dentist's office in a comfortable setting. Ensure your child's first solo dental visit occurs by age 1 or as recommended by your dentist. Going to the dentist together reinforces that dental care is part of life.

Following your own oral hygiene routine demonstrates to your child the importance of dental health. Making brushing, flossing, and dentist visits a family experience removes any sense of fear or anxiety. Lead by example for a lifetime of healthy smiles.


A child's laughter is one of life's greatest joys, and ensuring that laughter comes with a set of strong, healthy teeth is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Teaching your child good dental habits from the very beginning is an investment in their well-being that extends way beyond their mouth. From preventing cavities and tooth decay to establishing confidence with a dazzling smile, the small steps you take each day culminate in significant rewards.

Remember, while instilling these habits is a gradual process, consistency is key; with patience, creativity, and the secrets unveiled in this guide, you'll be well on your way to raising a dental health superstar. So here's to happy brushing and an even happier, healthier future for your children’s teeth!

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