Tooth Brushing is a Team Sport


Parents, you work hard to give your kids the tools to be successful. You spend years teaching them to tie their shoes, countless hours repeating the alphabet, and all those nights and weekends cheering from the sidelines at soccer games and swim practices. You just want the best for your kids, and when they finally get it … that first time they get those bunny ears just right, belt out the most beautiful ABC song you’ve ever heard, or score that first goal, it’s amazing, am I right?

But nestled down in the midst of all that sweet teaching and learning is an … ahem … frustrating stage that can be the undoing of even the most patient moms and dads. It’s the “I Do It Myself” phase, and while we don’t want to discourage our little ones from trying things on their own, there’s one place “I do it myself” is a NO GO in our books. We think Tooth Brushing is a Team Sport.

Tooth Brushing is Team Sport - Dentistry for Children

There is strong evidence that children eight and under need direct assistance with brushing teeth. This “Assistance Age” has been tweaked a time or two, but we believe eight is the minimum age a child can brush on their own.


Well it’s not for lack of trying! Give a kid a toothbrush, and they will have a ball! Most kids love to brush and often even see a new toothbrush as a treat or a toy, and that’s great! Buuuuuuut … it doesn’t really get the job done. Your kids need help to make sure their teeth are really clean.

The “Assistance Age” is based on three main factors:

  • Coordination Development
  • Time Awareness
  • Concept Understanding

Coordination Development

Just like it takes time and practice to learn the backstroke, it takes time and practice to hold a toothbrush properly and to make it reach all the areas of the mouth. Kids often just swipe those front teeth or saw their toothbrushes across the tops of their molars. Those are just the motions they are most capable of so we can’t really blame them for sticking with what they do best, but this is a great place for Coach Mom and Coach Dad to step in and show them all the surfaces of the teeth that need a good cleaning.

Time Awareness

Kid: Are we there yet?
Mom: No, but we’ll be there in 5 minutes.
Kid: Five minutes?!? That’s forever!!!

A child’s sense of time is … shall we say … skewed? If they’re enjoying themselves, two hours of play is never enough, but if the job’s no fun, two minutes can seem like an eternity. This is NOT the time to allow your kiddo to make a good judgment on how long to spend brushing their teeth. Two minutes might seem like a pretty definite amount of time to you, but to a child two minutes and two hours are basically interchangeable and equally awesome and awful depending on the activity.

Concept Understanding

Good oral hygiene is important to your overall health. Studies have shown the poor oral hygiene can lead or contribute to health problems like cardiovascular disease and endocarditis. Recent studies have even shown a link between poor oral hygiene and Alzheimer’s disease, which is all very interesting and important for sure, but your average 4-year-old isn’t really ready for those big ideas to hit home.

To a child, brushing is something mom and dad tell them to do. It’s fun sometimes and boring at others, and if they do a good job at it, the dentist might let them choose a prize from the treasure chest. That’s about as far as most kids understand this incredibly important part of their day. So how can you help?

Tooth Brushing is a Team Sport

There are several combinations of child-parent brushing sequences that might work for you and your child.

Game Time = Two Minutes

This means you, too, Mom and Dad, and let your kids see you do it! Actions speak louder than words, and seeing you make brushing a priority will help your kiddos realize just how important it is. The “two minutes” part of that equation is equally important. There are tons of fun tooth timers available on the market these days.

Take Turns at Bat

Or rather at the sink. Maybe you can start brushing your child’s teeth and let your child finish up. Or maybe “me first” means Junior starts the process, and you are the clean-up crew.

Night and Day Games

Perhaps you can negotiate a night and day game time routine where you do the brushing in the morning while your child gets to brush at night or vice versa. This can work great during the “I Do It Myself” phase allowing your child some independence and giving you some quality time making sure those teeth get a good cleaning each day.

It all boils down to having a Game Plan.

However you slice it, parents brushing their child’s teeth at least until age 8 is an important part of establishing and maintaining oral health, and remember, just like with those shoe strings and ABC’s, practice makes perfect!

What's the best age for your child to brush on their own? Might be later than you think ...