Proper Oral Hygiene for Children

Updated as of 10/9/21

I was wondering how important it was to personally brush my kids’ teeth, especially since they have the black stain problem, but also because I HATE brushing their teeth, and the process of yelling at them to come to the bathroom, and getting them to stand still, so I can brush their teeth. I was really hoping to find out that I don’t need to brush my kids teeth anymore. Instead, I just found way more than I had planned to know. 

How to take care of your kids teeth
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#1 Up to what age should you help brush your child’s teeth?

My own dentist claims that I need to be brushing and flossing my kids’ teeth until they are 9-10 years old. He says kids just don’t have the finger dexterity to get in between the teeth properly and brush all the sides that they need to. I presume each child is different, so you will need to observe your child as they brush themselves to determine when they are capable of brushing independently. So do I need to brush their teeth, night and day? My pediatric dentist tells me that he lets his kids brush their own teeth in the morning and he brushes it for them at night.

#2 How often should we brush our teeth? 

2x/day is the general consensus, although 3x/day seems to be the ideal.  It’s actually possible to brush your teeth too much or too hard which eventually wears down tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is precious and doesn’t really re-form although some products claim to help with that. If you brush your teeth too much or too hard, you also may wear out your tooth brush quickly and have to replace them more frequently. I learned that the buildup of plaque that causes gum disease takes at least 24 hours to develop. To me that means it’s ok for me to let the kids try brushing their teeth in the mornings as long as I brush thoroughly in the evening.

#3 When should we brush our teeth? 

I’ve always thought that we should brush after we eat (after breakfast, and say, before bed?), but after a round on the Internet, I’m not so sure. Apparently, eating sugary, acidic, and processed foods leaves tiny food particles that can wear away at your enamel if you brush directly after eating. Experts recommend taking a break before you brush after eating, a break ranging from 15-40 min, depending on the expert you consult!

The reasoning is that despite brushing before bed, plaque grows in your mouth overnight, and the sugars in your breakfast feed the plaque to make it worse for your teeth. This post describes the process in easy to understand detail. The conclusion is that brushing before breakfast is best if you can only do one of the two. Otherwise, brushing before breakfast and brushing again after some break would be ideal.

#4 What kind of toothpaste should I use?

You don’t need a lot of toothpaste. Just a pea-sized amount for both children and adults. Toothpaste manufacturers sell more toothpaste by convincing you that you need a whole ribbon on your large toothbrush. In fact, too much toothpaste can erode your enamel.

You can buy toothpaste with or without fluoride, or without Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). You should avoid toothpaste with SLS as it apparently can cause recurrence of canker sores. There are a number of arguments for or against having these things in your toothpaste. However, it seems that none of these toothpaste additives are harmful if you are truly just using a pea-sized amount.

#5 Rinse or spit?

The jury is out. I think this depends on what kind of toothpaste you use and whether or not you’re comfortable with swallowing a very small amount of these ingredients. Fluoride in high amounts in your body isn’t good for you. However, leaving fluoride on your teeth creates fluorapatite on your teeth which apparently helps prevent tooth decay. If you tend to get cavities easily, maybe it’s worth leaving more fluoride on your teeth.

#6 And the floss, what about the floss? 

As if brushing teeth wasn’t hard enough, but our dentists have always recommended flossing for kids, too. Both our adult dentist and pediatric dentist recommend that we begin to floss our kids teeth when there is no longer a gap between them. That happened quite early for us – our kids’ teeth seemed all snugly lined up against each other as soon as they came in!

However, the benefits of flossing are unproven according to a 2016 Associated Press investigation, so there was a media flurry suggesting that flossing wasn’t needed. My own oral hygiene experience, along with many dentists, is that despite the lack of proven benefit, flossing, if done correctly, removes many of the food particles that brushing alone can’t do. 

We should do this like we brush 3x/day ideally, 1x/day realistically (before bed).


Reversing cavities, alternative medicine:

What happens if you only brush once a day:

Mistakes we make when we brush our teeth:

Rinse or spit


When you should brush:

Informative dental resource website:


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