When should children brush their own teeth?

When should children brush their own teeth?

My kids are extremely independent and it’s tough to get them to accept that they are just little kids and can’t do all the things adults do. Tooth brushing is one definite thing that most kids under age of 8 should not be doing alone. My test for all parents is to consider this:

Would you let your young child do the dishes by themselves?

Can a four year old do a reasonable job? Probably not. How about a two year old? definitely not. An eight year old? Maybe. It Depends. As a parent, we are most likely thinking the same thing. I’’m sure parts of the plate will be squeaky clean, but that dried on tomato sauce requires a little bit of elbow grease that your little one might not have at the moment. It’s not just strength, but dexterity! It takes hand dexterity to properly clean something.

The same goes for their oral health. Kids and adults have very different perceptions of ‘what is clean’ when it comes to brushing their teeth. When caring for your child’s teeth, adult supervision and participation is one of the strongest factors to prevent dental issues from developing now and in the future.

Eventually your child will be able to effectively brush and floss their own teeth. Your participation in their nightly routine will convey several important things:

-A regular routine is crucial and these things can’t be skipped.

-Cleaning EVERY surface of the tooth must be done well.

-Last thing you do before you go to bed… teeth are cleaned!

It is important to start these habits at a young age so they don’t remember when these habits started! Do not tolerate your child not cooperating with you. It can be very costly for you and emotional for your child if they have to go through early life dental care.

Recommended bedtime dental routine for kids:

  • Child standing on a stool with you standing right behind them. (if child is really little or young, they can sit on the counter with their feet in the sink and their back resting against your stomach).
  • You BOTH are looking at the mirror (correlating physical cues with visual cues).
  • Your non-brushing hand is cradling their head/jaw to help keep them stable and in control.
  • You brush the child’s teeth from behind with an extremely small amount of toothpaste.
  • I use a lot of words to describe where I am brushing: insides, outsides, topsides, frontsides, backsides, upsides, downsides. (Why bother? well kids are not that attentive to where they are brushing. If you watch a kid brush their teeth, they may brush 3-4 teeth in front and their tongue for 10 seconds. Seriously!)
  • If the teeth are tight together, then you need to floss them too. if they are pretty gappy, flossing is less important than getting cooperative behavior while brushing.
  • 2 minutes! You want to focus on each area of the mouth for about 30 seconds. That’s a long time for upper right, upper left, lower right, lower left… but it’s crucial! because it conveys to the child how thorough they need to be.
  • Regular spitting of the foamy toothpaste. Make it fun, the kids love this!
  • Sip of water (only water! No milk, no food, no anything!)
  • off to bed.

Recommended morning dental routine for kids:

  • Children eat breakfast.
  • Step into bathroom, same as nighttime except give those kids some more independence. Let them try by themselves.
  • Evaluate how well they can do alone. My oldest daughter could not come close to doing a good enough job on her teeth until she was 6 and that was AFTER 6 years of the noted nighttime routine! If we hadn’t done that I can guarantee you she wouldn’t have the strength or attention to detail she has now with her teeth!
  • Follow up after their attempt and finish brushing their teeth
  • sip of water.
  • off to school, the bus, cartoons, or whatever.This routine is simple, not that time consuming, and it sets the children on a course that may result in them being cavity free for a very long time.

Once your child is eventually able to brush and clean their own teeth, maybe they will want to help YOU do the dishes?! (Wishful thinking…)


If it is time for your little one to start seeing the dentist or you are seeking advice on how to care for your child’s teeth, let DurhamDDS help be your coach. We offer a generous amount of dental services for patients of all ages. To set up an appointment call our office at 919-286-0779 or visit durhamdds.com for more information. Did you find this article slick? if so, please like on facebook or +1 on google. Dr. Bill