6 Tooth-Brushing Mistakes Parents Make

When it comes to brushing children's teeth, parents can make some tooth-brushing mistakes that can affect oral health. Learn more.
6 Tooth-Brushing Mistakes Parents Make
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 28 August, 2023

Adults are responsible for taking care of their children’s oral health, that’s a fact. Therefore, if you want to keep their teeth healthy and shiny, you should avoid these tooth-brushing mistakes that many parents make.

Remember that oral hygiene plays a key role in maintaining the oral health of little ones. Taking care of this habit correctly and frequently helps prevent oral diseases. On the other hand, improper brushing can have negative consequences in children’s lives. We’ll explain what the biggest toothbrushing mistakes are that many parents make and how you can avoid them.

1. Starting to brush children’s teeth too late

Many parents think that brushing baby teeth isn’t necessary and that’s why they don’t do it. Because their teeth that eventually fall out and are replaced, they believe that they don’t require any care. This isn’t only untrue, but it’s also dangerous.

Cavities can begin as soon as teeth appear in the mouth. For this reason, it’s crucial to start cleaning children’s mouths even before the first tooth erupts.

The website of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting to clean the baby’s gums before the first teeth erupt. To perform this hygiene, you should wipe your child’s gums and tongue with a damp cloth or a silicone swab.

When the first teeth erupt in the mouth, it’s important to start brushing. For this, you should use a small brush with soft bristles and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste.

2. Letting children brush their own teeth

Believing that children can brush their own teeth and letting them do it themselves is one of the frequent tooth-brushing mistakes that some parents make. Although children may want to perform their own oral hygiene, it’s up to adults to do it correctly.

During childhood, parents are the ones in charge of their children’s dental hygiene. Adults have the ability and responsibility to brush with the correct technique and frequency.

You can give your child a toothbrush to play with, become familiar with, and practice brushing. Teaching them the proper technique, counting the minutes needed for a thorough cleaning, and checking their progress is also helpful. However, you’re still the adult in charge of proper cleaning.

Young children don’t master enough manual dexterity to reach all tooth surfaces and brush properly until they’re 8 years old. Until that age, you must clean your child’s teeth.

When your child begins to clean their mouth on their own, your job isn’t over. You’re still the person responsible for accompanying the brushing and making sure it’s done properly. According to a review article published in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry, children who are left to brush their teeth unsupervised are at an increased risk of developing cavities.

3. Performing an incorrect hygiene technique

Parents should perform a correct oral hygiene technique on their children from the beginning. Maintaining order will avoid leaving areas uncleaned and will help children learn the technique from an early age.

Proper tooth brushing in children should take between 2 and 3 minutes. You should find a comfortable position that helps you visualize your child’s mouth and reach all their teeth. Your child should also be relaxed to enjoy this moment of their daily routine.

It’s best to always follow the same sequence: You can start with the upper teeth, cleaning the external sides, then the internal sides, and, finally, the chewing surfaces. When you finish, repeat the same movements on the lower elements. It’s also important to clean the gums and finish by cleaning the tongue.

The movements should be gentle, without exerting too much pressure, but precise. This way, you’ll clean effectively without traumatizing or injuring your child’s mouth. Depending on your child’s age, you’ll have to complement oral hygiene by using other specific products such as mouthwashes, dental floss, or interdental brushes.

4. Using the wrong toothbrush

Using the right instrument is essential for proper brushing in children. For children, choose a toothbrush with a small brush head, soft bristles, and a comfortable handle to reach the most posterior areas of the mouth.

Children can participate in the choice of their toothbrushes. They’re available with colorful motifs and child-friendly designs that can motivate children to take an interest in oral health care.

For some children, especially when they begin to brush their teeth on their own, electric toothbrushes may be appropriate. These instruments can motivate them to take care of their own hygiene and make cleaning easier.

Beyond the type of toothbrush, it’s important that the instrument is in good condition. Research published in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene suggests that toothbrushes with extreme wear are less effective than those with little or no wear.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends replacing toothbrushes every three to four months. Replacing the instrument should be done sooner if the bristles are frayed or badly split.

5. Not brushing long enough

Not taking enough time to clean the teeth properly is another one of the common toothbrushing mistakes that parents make. The ADA recommends brushing at least twice a day for two minutes each time.

Incorporating dental hygiene into specific times of the daily routine, such as waking up or before bedtime, prevents you from overlooking it. In addition, timing can become a motivating activity for children. Using a timer that they control or singing a song that lasts for the indicated time during brushing are fun and useful strategies.

6. Using too much toothpaste

Using too much fluoride toothpaste is another mistake parents often make when brushing children’s teeth. Under the belief that with more paste, the teeth receive more protection, they exaggerate its use. But this overdose of fluoride can cause fluorosis, an alteration in the development of dental pieces.

A statement published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 40% of children between 3 and 6 years of age use too much toothpaste. This excess increases the risk of generating stains and permanent discolorations in the dental elements.

To avoid alterations in children’s teeth, parents should make sure to apply the amount of toothpaste according to the child’s age:

  • A portion the size of a grain of rice for children from 0 to 3 years old.
  • The amount equivalent to a pea from 3 to 6 years of age, when children learn to spit.
  • From the age of 6, the amount can be increased to a portion of 1 cm or similar to the size of a chickpea.

It’s important that parents place the toothpaste on their children’s toothbrushes and prevent their little ones from handling and swallowing the product. This way, the damage that can arise from excessive fluoride consumption can be prevented.

Brushing children’s teeth conscientiously and without mistakes

If adults are aware of the importance of brushing children’s teeth and learn how to do it correctly, it helps them to avoid mistakes. Taking care of children’s oral health requires learning, consistency, and responsibility. Learning first to be able to teach later is part of the transmission of this important habit that will accompany children throughout their lives.

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.

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