Tooth Brushing in Children: When and How Often

Many parents wonder when to start tooth brushing in children and how often to do it. Here, we'll clarify all your doubts.
Tooth Brushing in Children: When and How Often
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 29 March, 2023

Taking care of children’s tooth brushing is a task that can raise many concerns for parents. It’s not only a matter of making sure that the technique is correct. It’s also important to know when to begin brushing their teeth, how often to do it, and for how long.

Brushing teeth, for some families, is synonymous with conflict and resistance. This refusal of the little ones, forgetfulness, or the lack of time of the adults, are all factors that can lead to the neglect of dental hygiene. But you should know that children should brush their teeth frequently and regularly. Here, we’ll explain what you need to know in detail.

Why is it important to brush children’s teeth?

When brushing children’s teeth, we remove and disorganize bacterial plaque. This whitish and sticky film, formed by food debris and bacteria, is responsible for many of the diseases of the mouth. When we eat, some food debris remains on the tooth surfaces. Bacteria in the mouth take advantage of these substrates to proliferate and multiply, especially if sugars are involved.

When metabolizing fermentable carbohydrates in the diet, bacteria produce acids that lower the pH of the mouth. If this occurs frequently, dental tissues become demineralized and cavities appear. In addition, the accumulation of bacterial plaque on the gums causes irritation and inflammation of the tissue. Over time, it can even mineralize and give rise to dental tartar, which causes bad breath in children.

Keep in mind that children need healthy teeth to be able to eat, speak, and smile without problems. In addition, a complete set of baby teeth favors the correct growth of the jaws and the proper eruption of the permanent teeth.

A small boy brushing his teeth.
Effective and frequent brushing prevents bacterial plaque from accumulating and, therefore, prevents the problems of cavities and bad breath.

How often should tooth brushing take place?

Ideally, children should brush their teeth after every meal. This way, we ensure that we remove food debris and harmful bacteria. However, in daily life, with its schedules, running around, and chores, this isn’t always possible, although you shouldn’t worry. It’s enough to brush two or three times a day, for two minutes each time, to take care of your child’s teeth.

Having these moments each day to take care of your child’s hygiene is enough and beneficial. There are also some situations to which you should pay special attention and that deserve an extra cleaning. If your child has eaten a lot of sweets, has food stuck to their molars, or has been drinking soda or soft drinks, adding brushing will provide added protection.

If your child wears braces, even more emphasis should be placed on oral hygiene. Taking care to remove debris that gets trapped in the appliances will prevent complications. Brushing in the morning at the beginning of the day and at night before going to bed should never be skipped. During the night, saliva secretion is lower. Therefore, if we don’t clean the mouth properly, the risk of oral diseases is higher.

When and how to brush children’s teeth?

Children’s teeth should be brushed when they wake up, after eating, and before going to bed. It’s best for oral hygiene to lasts about 2 or 3 minutes, so that it’s complete and thorough.

Cleaning should be done with fluoride toothpaste. It’s important that the bristles of the toothbrush clean all tooth surfaces. Brush the outside, inside, and chewing surfaces of the upper and lower teeth on both the right and left sides. In addition, the gums and the surface of the tongue should be cleaned.

Parents are in charge of and responsible for brushing their children’s teeth when they’re young. Then, when the child learns and is able to do it by themself, which happens between 6 and 8 years of age, adults should continue to accompany the process. Reminding them of brushing times, putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush, and checking that hygiene is complete will be their new task.

A little girl putting toothpaste on her toothbrush.
Oral hygiene should be done with a soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Between the ages of 6 and 8, the child learns to do it by themself.

When to start tooth brushing in children

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends starting to clean babies’ gums before the first teeth come in. To do this, parents should wipe the gums and tongue with a damp cloth or a silicone swab. Then, as soon as the first teeth appear, brushing should begin. For this, use a small brush with soft bristles and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste.

Around the age of three, when children learn to spit, you can increase the amount of toothpaste to the size of a pea. You should know that cleaning the teeth and gums from an early age helps to keep the teeth intact and healthy. Therefore, the child’s jaws will be able to develop normally and the mouth will fulfill its functions without problems.

Starting with tooth brushing in children from the time their first teeth appear also facilitates the incorporation of this healthy habit into the daily routine. Children become accustomed to having their teeth clean and making brushing a part of their daily routine.

A worthwhile effort

It can often be tempting to postpone brushing children’s teeth until the next day. But putting off taking care of children’s mouths can also have serious consequences.

Teaching children to take care of their oral health every day, from an early age, is a lifelong learning experience. It may take some time and patience on your part, but the benefit of a bright, healthy little smile is worth the effort.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Solis, G., Pesaressi, E., & Mormontoy, W. (2020). Tendencia y factores asociados a la frecuencia de cepillado dental en menores de doce años, Perú 2013-2018. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Pública36, 562-572.
  • Bruno, M. L. H., Barbieri, J. B., Ibarra, M. N. L., Abbate, M. F. P., & Volfovicz, R. (2022). Relación entre edad, cepillado dental y experiencia de caries en niños.
  • Bermúdez, L. S., & Díaz, M. E. G. (2016). La biopelícula: una nueva concepción de la placa dentobacteriana. Medicentro20(3), 167-175.
  • de Camargo, M. G. A., Palencia, L., Santaella, J., & Suárez, L. (2020). El uso de fluoruros en niños menores de 5 años. Evidencia. Revisión bibliográfica. Revista de Odontopediatría Latinoamericana10(1), 82-92.
  • Solis, G., Pesaressi, E., & Mormontoy, W. (2020). Tendencia y factores asociados a la frecuencia de cepillado dental en menores de doce años, Perú 2013-2018. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Pública36, 562-572.
  • Hernández-Cantú, E. I., Reyes-Silva, A. K. S., García Pineda, M. A., González-Montalvo, A., & Sada-Amaya, L. J. (2018). Hábitos de higiene bucal y caries dental en escolares de primer año de tres escuelas públicas. Rev Enferm IMSS26(3), 179-185.
  • Páez, C. A. V., Castillo, E. L. T., & Ávila, J. A. T. (2021). Higiene bucal como factor determinante en incidencia de caries dental niños de 6 a 12 años. ReciMundo5(1), 227-240.
  • Maldonado, G. S. S., Barroso, J. A. S., & Zurita, C. D. R. B. (2022). Análisis de los hábitos de higiene bucal y dental de niños escolares. Dilemas contemporáneos: Educación, Política y Valores.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.