Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth

Topic Overview

Start caring for your child's teeth as soon as you see the first baby (primary) tooth. Some tips on dental care for a child include the following:

  • Clean your baby's first teeth with a clean piece of gauze, a terry cloth washcloth, or a soft-bristled baby toothbrush at least once a day. You may use one of the commercial "baby toothpastes" available for infants who are at least 5 months old.
  • Clean your child's teeth before bedtime.
  • When using toothpaste, use only a small amount (about the size of a small pea). Young children can become seriously ill if they swallow large amounts of dental products that contain fluoride. Keep these products out of your child's reach. Normal amounts of fluoride added to public water supplies and bottled water are safe for children and adults.
  • Your child can learn how to brush his or her own teeth at about 3 years of age and should be brushing his or her own teeth morning and night by age 4, although parents should supervise and check for proper cleaning.
  • Studies show that children between 6 and 9 years of age who brush with fluoride toothpaste have 24% less tooth decay and tooth-surface damage than might be expected if non-fluoride toothpaste is used.1
  • Flossing is an important part of good dental health. Start flossing your child's teeth when he or she has teeth that touch each other. Talk with your dentist about the right timing and technique to floss your child's teeth and to teach your child to floss. Plastic flossing tools may be helpful.
  • From time to time, you may want to use disclosing tablets. Disclosing tablets are chewable tablets that color any plaque that remains after brushing. You can get these tablets at most drugstores.
  • When your child is about 6 years old, you may want him or her to use a mouthwash, especially if your child has cavities. Do not give your child a mouthwash that contains alcohol. The alcohol can be harmful if swallowed.



  1. Marinho VCC, et al. (2003). Fluoride toothpastes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).


Author Jeannette Curtis
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Terrina Vail
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven K. Patterson, BSc, DDS, MPH - Dentist
Last Updated April 23, 2009

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