Open Up! Brushing & Flossing My Toddler’s Teeth

We went to the dentist today for my daughter’s cleaning appointment.  She is not yet 3.5 years old and didn’t get her first tooth until she was almost 2 years old but she has been to the dentist 3 times already, which seems excessive to me.  But our dental plan covers a cleaning and check-up every 6 months, and so while I question whether such frequent dental visits are necessary, I take her anyways for peace of mind.  Our hygienist and dentist both mentioned that these initial visits were really for relationship building and for establishing good dental habits.

toddler getting teeth cleaned at dentist

So far so good.  My daughter was a trooper and got a reward in addition to a goody bag with a toothbrush of her choice (she picked Nemo because of the colors), a floss sample, and some travel-sized floss and kid’s toothpaste.  She was also entered into the monthly raffle for being cavity-free.

dentist goody bag

While my daughter didn’t get her first tooth until she was almost 2 years old, my friend’s baby was born with teeth.  When did your baby get his or her first tooth?

Typically, babies get their first teeth between 5 and 10 months old.  These primary teeth are sometimes called milk teeth because of their white color and are pushed out and replaced by the permanent teeth at around age 6.

The Importance of Primary Teeth

Caring for these primary teeth is important because they are just as prone to captivities as permanent teeth, and even though they will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth, they help baby chew, speak more clearly, and serve as placeholders in the gums for the permanent teeth.  If the primary teeth fall out prematurely, the permanent teeth may drift into the empty spaces, potentially making for a very crooked smile. So open up wide!

Our dentist had recommended practicing dental hygiene even before the first tooth and clean our baby’s gums with a wet washcloth or an extra soft baby toothbrush.  Then when she gets her first tooth, to start brushing with a small amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste until she is able to spit well.  But by the time my daughter got her first tooth, the guidelines must have changed, because our dentist recommended using fluoridated toothpaste from the get-go.

Getting a Toddler to Her Brush Teeth

Our dentist also gave some suggestions on getting my daughter to brush.  Most revolved around keeping the experience light and fun:

  1. singing a (silly brushing) song and incorporating the song into the routine
  2. letting my daughter pick her own toothbrush and or toothpaste
  3. playing brushing with her favorite toy
  4. allowing her to brush our teeth first
  5. playing copycat or follow the leader
  6. try brushing and flossing as early in the evening as possible before she is tired and fussy

When my daughter was young she was like most kids who want to mimic adults, so getting her to brush her own teeth was easy since I had always brushed in front of her.  But getting her to let me brush her teeth was, and still is, a battle.  Some parents would be appalled that I’m still brushing her teeth for her but our pediatrician was a huge advocate.  I encourage my daughter to do almost everything she is capable of, and had initially protested his recommendation because she actually does a reasonably decent job at brushing.

Our pediatrician stood firm and said with conviction that caring for her teeth is something that is too important for potentially well enough because that means it’s also potentially not well enough.  That sold it for me.

I felt it was personal for him as he said he was admonished by his dentist for letting his now 5 year old son brush his own teeth.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask him if his son got any cavities when he brushed on his own.  Anyway, he is promoting assisted brushing until age 6 (and possibly age 10 for flossing).

Our routine now is she gets to brush her own teeth first, and then I floss and brush it again for her.  And if she was really good letting me brush, she gets to use the mouthwash.  That girl loves doing whatever mommy does.


These are some of the first few toothbrushes she had picked out herself.  She had no idea what Monster’s Inc. or My Little Pony was at the time but had wanted an electric toothbrush like mommy’s.

kid's toothbrushes

I now use the 360 brush by baby buddy exclusively because it’s just much easier and quicker to clean her teeth.  Proper brushing requires a 45 degree angle.  This is hard to attain without twisting the wrist and practically impossible to achieve with a squirmy toddler.  The 360 brush has extra dense bristles all around so as long as I can get the brush in her mouth, we’re golden.  I also like that the soft bristles all around means I don’t need to worry about accidentally hurting her gums as much as I did with the regular toothbrush designs.


360 brush = Best Toddler Toothbrush Ever! Ever!


As a compromise for no longer letting her choose her own toothbrush, and using the 360 brush, we use toothpastes in all her favorite colors (yes, she has multiple favorite colors).


Our dentist had said that not flossing wasn’t an option for us because my daughter’s jaw is so small that her teeth are crowded and super tight (sigh…braces down the road?) while most toddlers tend to have spaces and gaps between their teeth (a very good thing since these primary teeth are space holders for even bigger permanent teeth).

Fun Flossers


We got a sample of these fun flossers the first time we went to the dentist and they seem to clean more effectively and are easier to get in between her super tight teeth than the traditional string floss so we’ve been using these for my daughter ever since.  Her next dentist visit is in December.  Let’s hope everything is still good then.


with love charlie.jpg