When Should My Child Brush Their Own Teeth?

Published on April 03, 2017 | News

Making decisions as a parent is no easy feat.

It begins with choosing your baby’s name. From there, endless choices unfold before your eyes. Which pediatrician should I use? Which car seat is the safest? At what age will my baby be able to pronounce our last name, Hrdlicka?

Amongst these choices, parents have to decide when their child should brush their own teeth.

Teaching children to do things on their own helps establish independence, problem-solving skills and self-confidence, amongst other qualities. Toothbrushing can serve as another skill to help children develop positively. The development of fine motor skills indicates success in other areas later in life, such as writing, drawing and self-help.

Encouraging independence is great, and being able to trust your kids to brush their teeth on their own might seem small, but it can alleviate a lot of stress. But just because you think your child can brush on their own, doesn’t mean it’s best for their health.

Challenges Parents Face

Five-year-olds only brush 25% of the surfaces of their teeth, while 11-year-olds brush 50% of the surfaces of their teeth. So while their coordination might make them ready to do the action of brushing teeth, their attention to detail or self-discipline might still have a way to go.

At age two or three, parents should teach their children to spit while brushing to ensure they don’t swallow any toothpaste.

Luckily most children enjoy spitting, so this direction shouldn’t be too challenging for parents. But at what age should kids take over the toothbrush for themselves?

How to Know When Your Child Is Ready

The answer to this dilemma isn’t cut-and-dry. Each child develops differently. The two biggest concerns for parents of young brushers are:

  1. Teaching your child to not swallow toothpaste while brushing, due to the harmful elements in fluoride-based toothpaste
  2. The child having enough hand-eye coordination to effectively clean a good percentage of their teeth’s surfaces

If your child can drink from a cup without spilling, or if they effectively wash their hands after using the bathroom, then they’re probably ready to start brushing their teeth on their own.

Helpful Tools

One helpful option for parents is to use plaque disclosing tablets or solutions. These tablets turn the plaque on teeth a different color, so if your child can remove almost all the color-stained plaque from their teeth, they are probably ready to brush by themselves.

Thanks to recent technology, kids who may not yet possess the coordination necessary to effectively brush their own teeth (ages three to six, according to Dentistry for the Adolescent and Child by McDonald & Avery), can have some help.

Games and smart toothbrushes can turn the chore of toothbrushing into a fun game for kids. And while more enthusiasm for this twice-daily dental hygiene routine is great, there’s another benefit to this technology.

One such product, Playful Toothbrush, was found to have significantly improved kindergarteners’ brushing effectiveness. It led to more brushing strokes, longer brushing time and more thorough cleaning.

No matter who is brushing your child’s teeth, dentist appointments and cleanings should be a part of your family’s routine.

Find a dentist near you >

Image credit: PeopleImages

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