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Dental Care / Teeth Issues > Tooth Cleaning: When, How and What Toothpaste?

Tooth Cleaning: When, How and What Toothpaste?



  • Even before the first tooth erupts, many infants enjoy a gentle massage of the gums with a moist cloth.
  • Once the first tooth erupts, it is important to clean the teeth daily. You can use a cloth, a finger toothbrush or a small soft toothbrush. Once they get molars, your finger will appreciate changing to a toothbrush on a handle. Biting hurts!
  • Infant toothpaste without fluoride is available and can be used if your baby enjoys the taste, but it is now recommended to use a very small amount (the size of a grain of rice) of toothpaste with fluoride until a child knows how to spit, usually after 3 years of age.
  • Use a kid-friendly flavor. Most infants and children don't like the mint toothpastes - kids complain they "burn" so choose a kid-friendly flavor.
  • Offer water with fluoride (tap water or baby bottled water) throughout the day. 

Toddler and preschoolers 

  • Toddlers can benefit from a little fluoride, but only use a sliver of rice amount of fluorinated toothpaste.
  • Continue to use a kid-friendly flavor.
  • Once a preschooler can spit the toothpaste, you can move to a pea-sized amount of toothpaste with fluoride. Too much toothpaste encourages accidental swallowing. It's important to supervise whenever the child has access to toothpaste. Many children love the taste of toothpaste and will try to eat the toothpaste. If they do, limit to a grain of rice amount until they spit well.
  • Too much swallowed fluoride can damage the permanent teeth, even before they erupt, but the small amounts in fluorinated water is beneficial.
  • Allowing the toddler to "brush" first is okay, but they will not be able to clean their teeth well enough until about 7 years of age, so you must follow up with a good brushing.

What to do when your child resists tooth brushing

  • Allow them to watch you brush your teeth and allowing them to brush theirs alongside you.
  • Use toothbrushes with a favorite character or one that lights for the duration of brushing.
  • Read books about brushing teeth.
  • Find videos, games, and worksheets online that encourage toothbrushing. 
  • If the child still resists, you can sit on the floor and have the child lay with his head toward you. If you need, you can put their arms and legs under your legs. This will allow good visualization of their mouth.

Most children do not need to floss until about 3 years of age, when their molars start to contact one another. There are flosses available in fun colors and shapes that allow easier flossing of a child's mouth. Check out GumChucks for one innovative design.  

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first dental visit 6 months after the first tooth erupts or 1 year of age, whichever occurs first. Many of our local dentists perfer to start at older ages, so we can provide fluoride varnish every 3-6 months at their well checks until they start seeing the dentis. Please be sure your child sees the dentist by at least 3 years of age. We have many good pediatric dentists in our area - just ask your doctor for some recommendations!

What are Whitening Toothpastes?

Whitening toothpastes have polishing agents and mild abrasives that help remove surface stains from teeth. Teeth that have surface stains are cleaned and whitened by whitening toothpastes. They are not effective against deeper stains. Talk to your child's dentist before using them on your child.

If your teeth have deeper, darker stains due to injury or certain medications, a more thorough brightening treatment, such as bleaching or micro abrasion, will be required. If you choose to use a whitening toothpaste, make sure the toothpaste contains fluoride as well as whitening agents.

Avoiding foods that can darken teeth is encouraged over whitening after the fact. These foods include coffee, tea and sodas. Smoking also discolors teeth and is discouraged.

For more on keeping healthy teeth, see Dr. Stuppy's blog, Keep that sparkle in their smile! Dental health tips.

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