When can a child brush their own teeth?

When it comes to grooming, there’s a good chance Baby has already started showing an interest in taking matters (and brushes) into her own hands. It may be tempting to encourage her to fully take over, but it’s also important to be sure the job will get done well.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that tooth decay affects nearly half of all children. That means it’s crucial to make sure Baby’s teeth are being cleaned properly each time you brush, and that you’re brushing at least twice each day.

Troubleshooting for stubborn children 

Many parents begin letting their children brush their own teeth when the resistance to parent-brushing gets too great. There are many factors that may lead to these protests, from sore gums associated with teething to a simple desire for independence. Wanting to brush for themselves is a great quality for children who have the coordination and motivation to brush well, and can be a great first step towards passing her the toothbrushing torch. On the other hand, though, some children start getting interested in brushing before they’re really ready to take over. While it’s a great time to introduce them to some brushing technique, it also might not be quite the time to pass full brushing responsibility over.

If Baby starts to insist on doing the brushing for themselves before she is totally ready, you can let her explore with the toothbrush for a minute or two, but complete the job on your own to guarantee her teeth receive a good cleaning. For a child who is especially opposed to having her teeth brushed, there are some tactics you can try.

  • Sing a song about brushing to help make the activity seem more fun
  • Allow her to pick out a toothbrush featuring her favorite character
  • Let her stand next to you as you brush your own teeth. Children love mimicking, and it’s also a good way to show her proper brushing techniques
You might have tried some of these things when Baby was a little younger, but even if she wasn’t completely receptive then, she might be now – Baby is growing every day, and you never know what’s going to catch her interest.

At what age should I stop helping? 

As with most developmental milestones, the time when a child can effectively brush her teeth on her own will vary. Research shows that children tend to pick up this skill around their preschool years, but most children will still need supervision until at least age 6, and some even beyond.

The best bet at guaranteeing good oral hygiene is to continue brushing Baby‘s teeth for her until she can fully manipulate the toothbrush, and even then you’ll want to inspect her teeth to be sure they’re clean.  Some parents will need to continue to brush the back teeth and floss for their children long after they’ve learned to use a toothbrush correctly.

There is no magic age for children to be ready to brush their teeth on their own, and the most important thing is always just to continue making brushing a part of Baby’s regular routine, and encouraging good oral hygiene. The more often she practices good brushing techniques, the sooner she will begin to pick it up on her own!

  • “Toothbrushing Tips For Young Children.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.

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