Instilling good oral hygiene habits into children is one of the most important things any parent can do. Teaching children to brush properly early in life sets them up for a lifetime of healthy teeth. And that’s not all. There’s a direct link between the health of your mouth and the health of the rest of your body. In fact, good oral hygiene can help prevent serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
If you’re the parent of a young child, the first step to teaching your child good brushing habits is to select the right toothbrush. If you’ve passed through the drug store dental hygiene aisle, you’ve no doubt seen the wide variety of choices. Knowing when a child should start using a toothbrush and what kind of brush you’re looking for can help you quickly narrow the selection down to exactly what you need.
How to Choose the Right Toothbrush
Before you grab the first brightly colored or inexpensive toothbrush you can find, ask yourself three questions:
1. Does It Fit?
Sizing isn’t typically an issue when you’re purchasing a toothbrush for an adult-sized mouth, but it’s incredibly important when choosing the best toothbrush for a child. Why? Smaller mouths need smaller brushes. Many times, toothbrush manufacturers put some guidance on the front of the brush, suggesting the age range that will benefit the most from a certain product.
Parents should also evaluate the size of the brush in relation to their child’s size. The right-sized brush should easily wrap around the entire front and both sides of a child’s molars. If a brush won’t adequately cover the entire surface area of a tooth at once, consider sizing up.
2. How Soft Are the Bristles?
Children aren’t always gentle brushers, especially when they’re learning proper brushing techniques. Choosing a brush with soft bristles can protect their sensitive gums and enamel from damage during the brushing process. Soft bristles are especially important for little ones who are still teething, since the softer bristles will be gentler on tender gums.
3. Is It Electric or Manual?
One question we’re asked often is, “Are electric toothbrushes good for children’s teeth?” Once your child is a little older — typically 3 and up — and more experienced with brushing, electric toothbrushes can be a great option. Although manual and electric brushes can both do an excellent job of cleaning teeth and gums, electric toothbrushes can be a novel way to encourage reluctant kids to brush thoroughly. Electric toothbrushes for kids come in a variety of colors and feature different characters to entice even the most stubborn brushers.
Best Toothbrush for Babies
It’s never too early to establish good oral hygiene. We often talk to parents wondering how to find the right toothbrush for their child. Although newborns don’t have teeth, their parents can and should wipe down their gums after each feeding. Even before their teeth arrive, a baby’s mouth still produces bacteria. Breast milk and formula both have sugars in them that can feed the bacteria inside of a baby’s mouth if it’s not properly cleaned.
Once a baby begins cutting teeth, they may not be ready for a traditional toothbrush. This is where creative brushing using a finger brush or cleaning wipes can be helpful. A clean, damp washcloth can also do the trick. Whether you opt for a finger brush or a more traditional toothbrush, the best toothbrush for a baby should have:
- A small head that fits comfortably in your baby’s mouth
- Soft bristles
- BPA-free material
Silicone baby brushes are also a great option for young babies with no teeth, or who are about to get the first set of teeth. Silicone brushes have soft and thick bristles made of silicone, and usually the handles are made of silicone also. Silicone brushes tend to be more gentle and make great teething toys. However, as more teeth erupt into the mouth, silicone brushes are not as effective at removing plaque compared to traditional nylon-bristled toothbrushes. Keep this in mind as your baby cuts more teeth.
Best Toothbrush for Toddlers
Children cut teeth at various stages throughout their first two years. Some children have a mouth full of teeth by age 1, while others will be approaching 2 and still waiting for gaps in their mouth to be filled. Regardless of how many teeth your toddler has, it’s important to establish a good brushing routine early. This means it’s time to find a good toothbrush designed for little mouths. When selecting the best toothbrush for toddlers, look for one that has:
- Soft bristles held firmly in place to prevent them from breaking off when chewed on.
- A soft body and handle that can also act as a teether when it’s in their mouth.
- A large handle for children to grip easily.
At this age, it’s important that parents are active participants in a toddler’s brushing routine. Even with the perfect toothbrush, young children cannot properly grip the brush or reach all their teeth. Parents should take the lead in demonstrating and overseeing the brushing process to ensure teeth and gums are cleaned properly each time.
Best Toothbrush for Kids
As children grow, so do their mouths. Children age 5 to age 8 have different needs for a toothbrush than they did when they were younger. Parents of these older children should look for brushes that have:
- Slimmer handles for an easier grip.
- A design for larger jaws.
- Bright colors and characters that will capture a child’s attention and encourage use.
Children over the age of 3 may also benefit from an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes can be helpful in many cases, especially when children struggle to reach all their teeth with a manual brush or show a reluctance to maintain a good oral hygiene routine. Although children at this age are becoming increasingly independent, parents should still actively supervise brushing to ensure they are brushing thoroughly.
When to Get a New Toothbrush
Toothbrushes aren’t meant to last forever, especially when young children are using them. In general, a child’s toothbrush should be replaced every three months. The following are additional signs a toothbrush should be replaced:
- Worn or frayed bristles: Children who chew on their toothbrush bristles may need a replacement more frequently. Overall, misshapen, missing or worn down bristles are the most obvious sign it’s time for a replacement.
- Too small: If your child has cut several new teeth or had a significant growth spurt, their current toothbrush may not be the right size for their mouth. If their brush no longer covers the surface of a molar, it’s time for an upgrade.
- After illness: If your child has been sick, always replace their toothbrush once they recover. You don’t want those germs lingering for another round of illness.
Foster Good Oral Hygiene at Any Age
Teach your child the importance of good oral hygiene with regular brushing and regular visits to the dentist. At Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we’re committed to helping your child establish good habits that will protect their teeth and gums for a lifetime. The American Dental Association recommends children see their dentist for the first time within six months of cutting their first tooth or around their first birthday — whichever milestone occurs first. Schedule your child’s first dental appointment today.
Dr. Dana grew up in Portland and went to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for dental school. She then moved to Anchorage, AK for her residency in Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Dana takes a holistic approach to pediatric dentistry & is able to use her own parenting experience to sympathize and understand each family’s unique dynamic.