how to choose the right toothbrush and toothpaste for your child: toothbrush with heart drawn in toothpaste

There are so many toothbrushes and toothpastes available on the market that it is very difficult to understand the difference between them all and to decide which one is the best for your child.

When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?

From birth your baby’s mouth should be cleaned with a cloth or piece of gauze after each feeding. The first teeth typically start erupting between 4 and 6 months and, to clean these, you can use a finger brush or the smallest size baby toothbrush. These are usually promoted as “baby’s first toothbrush” and are very soft and tiny in size.

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When should a child start using toothpaste?

Only start using toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth after the age of 12 months. As your baby is getting bigger and more teeth are starting to erupt, you can adapt the size of the toothbrush accordingly. Mostly, the appropriate age of the baby is mentioned on the packaging.

At this point, don’t worry too much about the technique that you use to brush your baby’s teeth. Any action that will lead to disturbance of the bacteria is good, even if this means that your baby is just chewing on the brush! Because of teething and the baby’s gums being itchy, this might very well be the case.

Should I let my child brush their teeth themselves?

Your child will soon want to take over and brush his or her own teeth. This is, of course, way too soon for them to do a good enough job themselves. At this point in time, what is important for me as an oral hygienist is the willingness that the child expresses in cleaning their teeth. This is one of the benefits of starting early: brushing their teeth doesn’t become a habit that needs to be taught at a later stage of life.

Be patient with your child and give them the opportunity to play around with the brush. It goes without saying that caution needs to be taken for the child not to hurt him or herself. Let your child understand that although they’re allowed to brush their teeth, that you will need to brush their teeth as well.

how to choose the right toothbrush and toothpaste for your child: child holding a toothbrush

Is it better for a child to use an electric toothbrush?

As your child is growing older, hopefully it will become a bit easier for them to brush themselves and for longer intervals. As a toddler they will become increasingly more interested in all kind of devices and toys with bells and whistles and movement. This might be a good time to introduce an electric toothbrush or even a manual toothbrush playing tunes or songs. Not all children will be in favor of these, as some children are sensory sensitive. Don’t force your toddler to use a brush he doesn’t feel comfortable with.

One brush isn’t better than another brush. They have different properties and there is a place for all of them – it all depends on the user and the time you spend brushing your teeth. This is not only true for children, but also for adults.

As an oral hygienist, I prefer an electric toothbrush because:

  • It has a timer.
  • It does the recommended motion – circular movements and/or vibration.
  • The size of the brush head is small.

In my opinion, the electric toothbrush is making brushing easier, but it’s not a magic wand. You need to carefully follow the contour of each tooth, brushing each tooth individually, and make sure you brush the gums as well as well. And, of course, you must brush the tongue! Remember not to add pressure onto the teeth and gums and that there should be no added back and forth scrubbing motion with your arm.

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At the same time, with good technique, excellent results can be achieved when brushing with a manual toothbrush, but you need to be conscious of your motion and the time you spend brushing.

In my opinion, I found the manual toothbrush head quite big. Always choose a small brush head, because you are more likely to get to all the hard-to-reach places with a smaller head. This is a helpful tip that works for children as well as adults.

Unfortunately a manual brush has no timer. This can contribute to not brushing for long enough and therefore not achieving the desirable result. If your child in not using an electric toothbrush with a timer, I strongly suggest that they use an hourglass or a timer to monitor their brushing time – it’s amazing how much motivation these can give. They’ll also be learning from an early age that you need to brush your teeth for the recommended 2 minutes. A study has shown that the average adult is only brushing his teeth for 30 sec.

How to choose the right toothbrush for your child

As with anything else, children like to be given a choice and they’re more likely to use a toothbrush that they’ve been allowed to choose themselves. A toothbrush in their favourite colour, or with their favourite cartoon character on it, is always a winner. Perhaps you could choose a few options and let them make the final decision themselves.

How to choose the right toothpaste for your child

Choosing the right toothpaste for your child is a bit more difficult than choosing the right toothbrush as some children are very sensitive to certain tastes. A strong minty taste can be very off-putting for some, while other children might like it. This goes for fruity flavors too so it might take a bit of trail and error to get it right. The actual choice of toothpaste isn’t the most important factor here, it’s important for the bacteria to be disrupted by the brushing action even if no toothpaste is being used. But it is always good to get the fluoride from toothpaste as it offers great protection against cavities and fluoride is naturally present in fish, tea, cereal, water and some fruit and vegetables.

Sarie traded a glamorous career as a lecturer at a finishing school for a new adventure as a dental hygienist and lecturer when she went to university to retrain at the age of 31. Sarie found her passion in helping people, saying ‘it’s much more than working on someone’s mouth, it’s restoring confidence, creating opportunities and being part of making it all happen, not only for the patient, but also for myself.’ A mom of one herself, Sarie has a special interest in working with children.