A Step-by-Step Guide for Brushing Your Child's Teeth

Need the scoop on HOW to properly brush your precious one’s pearly whites?  This valuable guide will help!


Step 1:  Do you have the right tools?

Before you begin, make sure you have all the right tools for effective brushing!  This includes:

  • a soft bristle toothbrush in good condition (no frayed or bent bristles)
  • toothpaste
  • floss stick or traditional string floss

Step 2: Do you have the right touch?

Two fingers worth of pressure is all you need to effectively brush the teeth.  The telltale sign that you’re using too much pressure?  Frayed or bent bristles. 

Note: This same amount of pressure applies to both manual and electric toothbrushes. 

Step 3: Know your surfaces

There are 3 surfaces to each tooth to brush with your toothbrush:

  1. the cheek side (or smiling side)
  2. the biting side (where the grooves are)
  3. the tongue side 

Step 4: Where to start?

There are no hard and fast rules as to where to start or what order to brush in.  We recommend starting with any weak areas that your child’s dentist may have pointed out (for example, an enamel defect, the start of a cavity, or a really groovy tooth).  It’s best to apply the toothpaste there first, so if using fluoridated toothpaste, the weak areas get the most benefit from the remineralizing fluoride.

Otherwise, start with the biting surface of the molars and go in a pattern so you don’t forget any areas.  Aside from between the teeth, our experience finds that build up is most often found in the grooves of the molars and at the gum lines. 

 Step 5: The Method*

When brushing the “cheek” or “smiling” side of the teeth, angle the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and move the toothbrush in a circular motion, making sure the bristles are reaching the gum lines of these teeth. “Drawing” circles on the teeth with the toothbrush helps the gum lines not get missed!  To encourage young kids with adopting the circular method of brushing (rather than just straight across), you might even sing along with “the wheels on the bus go round and round” as you brush!

For brushing the “biting” side of the teeth, place the toothbrush directly on the surface and move the toothbrush in a back and forth and circular motion.

When brushing the “tongue” side of the teeth, angle the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle and move the toothbrush in a circular motion, making sure the bristles are reaching the gum lines of those teeth (just like the cheek side). For reaching the tongue side of the front (anterior) teeth, tilt the toothbrush vertically and continue with gentle circles!

Step 6:  Don’t forget the tongue!

Brushing the tongue helps rid the mouth of germs/bacteria that lead to bad breath!

Step 7: Floss

You’re probably used to brushing first and flossing last, but you can do it in either order!  Flossing first gets out debris between the teeth before brushing, which helps ensure debris removed during flossing doesn’t get left in the mouth.

The key to flossing, whether using floss sticks or traditional floss, is to floss on either side of the interdental papilla, otherwise known as “gum triangles.”  (Where teeth meet, you’ll notice a triangle shape at the gums.) Move the floss down each side of the gum triangles.

Floss-Friendly Tip:  You can reuse floss sticks until the floss shreds or breaks.  Just wipe after each use!

Other helpful pointers for effective brushing:

  • Assist your child with brushing until they are at least 8 years old.
  • Brush for a full 2 minutes, 2 times a day (after breakfast and before bed).
  • Never share toothbrushes. Sharing is caring, but not when it comes to toothbrushes!  

*brushing technique adapted from The Bass Method

Dental Care TipsShon Dempsey