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When can my child start brushing and flossing his own teeth?

Diana K. Blythe, MD
Pediatrics
Your children should learn to care for their teeth at a young age in order to make it a habit. They will be more likely to take good care of their teeth as they get older if they form the habit while they are young. If they own the behavior, they are more likely to continue it.
Learning good dental habits at a young age can protect a child's teeth from cavities, the most common childhood disease in the United States today. Early on, parents can wipe a young child's first teeth with a damp cloth or clean gauze to remove food and sugary liquids that can result in tooth decay. By a child's first birthday, he should be evaluated by a dentist, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). The dentist can check the child's mouth and teach the parents how to keep the child cavity-free with expert tips on brushing a young child's teeth. The dentist can educate the parents on specific foods that build strong teeth and foods to avoid that may result in early childhood tooth decay.
Carol Jahn
Dentist
Teeth need to be brushed as soon as they erupt. There are several types of brushes for every age. It is a good idea to brush your child's teeth as long as they will allow it. Even for an older child, supervising the brushing is important and children typically forget to brush the inside of teeth or the molars and usually don't brush long enough for effectiveness -- 2 minutes is recommended.

As for dental floss, it really depends on the age of the child. Flossing is much more challenging. There are floss holder type products that can make it easier for the child to floss or you can have them use a Water Flosser. The Water Flosser is especially good for a child with orthodontic appliances.
Children should start brushing their teeth as soon as teeth erupt. It's even recommended that you clean your baby's gums using a clean wet cloth before teeth have appeared! The amount of toothpaste should be adjusted to the age of the child. Remember that children need to be checked for how well they are brushing their own teeth until they have consistently shown they can do it without supervision. Similarly, children can be brought to a dentist before they even have any teeth. Your dentist would be happy to provide education on oral hygiene.
Children may be able to brush their teeth by the age of 7 years, but may need supervision brushing until about age 10 or 11 years. Flossing removes plaque from between teeth, where a toothbrush can't reach. However, flossing is a more difficult skill to master. Floss your child's teeth until about age 10 years, after which he or she should be able to floss under adult supervision.
As soon as your toddler can hold a toothbrush, you should allow them to brush their own teeth. However, they probably won’t be able to do a thorough job, so once they're done you’ll need to finish it off. If your child is resistant to brushing, try to find a way to make it fun. Also, be sure to teach proper oral hygiene right off the bat. Bad habits are hard to break. Most children require supervision while brushing their teeth until around the age of 7. On top of brushing, you should also teach your child the importance of flossing. Making a game out of brushing your teeth together or singing a song can often be effective techniques for getting your child to practice proper oral hygiene. Also, make sure your child isn’t using too much toothpaste. If they swallow too much, they could get sick.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.