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Brushing up on Toddler Tooth Care

Remember a few months back when we talked about taking care of baby teeth and gums? Well, now that your wee one isn’t quite as wee (and maybe even has some teeth!), it’s time to discuss toddler tooth care.

Baby teeth are just going to fall out anyway, so why should I stress about taking care of them?

I know, I know… I’ve uttered the same sentence a million times. I get it.

Remember: even though baby teeth fall out eventually, healthy baby teeth actually help protect the space where permanent teeth grow in; on the other hand, damaged and cavity-filled baby teeth can lead to problems with the permanent teeth (especially if any infection spreads).

Also: “I can’t wait for my baby to go under anesthesia for dental work,” said no parent – ever.

If I’m being totally honest, when I learned about the importance of brushing tiny baby teeth, I definitely panicked (I consider it a good week when I’m able to get those teeth brushed even three times!). Let me make it perfectly clear that the following info and tips take place in a perfect world where you have an infinite amount of time and kids who are totally willing to let you brush their teeth (in this world, kids also don’t throw tantrums over the fact you cut their sandwich the wrong way etc., etc….).

That said, remember it’s all about getting them into the habit — and if you started many months ago (per the 10-month email), who knows? You might even have an easy time of it.

Toddler Tooth Brushing Goals

In an ideal world, you want to brush those teeth twice a day (in the morning after breakfast, and in the evening before bed).

If you’re using toothpaste with fluoride, you should still be using just a smear of toothpaste until your kid can reliably spit it all out (around 3 yrs or so). Remember, the kind of toothpaste doesn’t really matter; it’s the act of brushing that’s important.

As a refresher, we discussed brushing and toothpastes here and the fluoride debate here.

Try to spend approximately two minutes brushing (I know, I know… we’re all lucky if we can get even 20 seconds in there!).

But my “big kid” can brush his own teeth, right?

Nope. Definitely not at 20 months old, but probably not at 6 years old, either.

Wait, what?!

Back to our “perfect world” scenario in which all kids are totally amenable and just love when you have to help them with things… all children need supervision and help with brushing their teeth at least until they turn 6, and ideally until they turn 8!

One expert recommends that you can gauge your child’s “developmental readiness” for solo brushing based on whether or not she can tie her own shoes. If she can, she can probably brush her teeth; if not, she still needs help with the toothbrush.

~ Let me tell you, as a parent of a 5- and 7-year-old, this is when it really starts catching up to them. I know many kids this age who have had a dozen cavities thus far, and have even needed root canals. Plural. Root canals. These are competent, educated parents and I’m telling you, it’s starting to get ugly.

Case in point: you can’t leave it up to your young kids to brush properly; you need to brush their teeth until early-to-mid elementary school. If you start now (or ideally, a while ago…), it will be less of a fight. Promise!

Toddler Tooth Care: Tips and Tricks

Check out these great tips on toddler tooth care and how to brush and floss (yeah!) your toddler’s teeth from our amazing friends at WhatsUpMoms ~

Other Tips for Keeping Cavities Away:

  • Sugar.
    As you might know, there’s a bit of a sugar epidemic right now. The average child consumes obscene amounts of sugar every day – a sad percentage of kids are on their way to Type 2 diabetes. This is the primary cause of tooth decay, not to mention just about every lifestyle disease that exists. It’s because of our shitty food culture, but I’ll spare you my rant. Read also: Tooth decay crisis: Dentists plead with parents to reduce children’s sugar intake.
  • Limit candy, sticky foods (like raisins and dried fruit) and soda.
  • Enter the ‘F’ word: floss. Expert organizations recommend flossing once your child has teeth that are touching each other. I’m not sure exactly how realistic this advice is, given that brushing on its own tends to be an ordeal for most parents, but if you have an angel that lets you in there, go for it!
  • Sing a special tooth-brushing song, or even play a video about brushing. This Elmo tooth-brushing clip is a kid-favorite and models good brushing – at 1:30 mins, it’s the perfect length!

Product Recs

Toddler Toothbrushes

Gum Crayola Children’s Toothbrush ~ $4 for 2 brushes

Kids love this toothbrush because it’s colorful and looks like an actual Crayola marker (what kid doesn’t want to use marker(s) on her teeth??). Parents love it because it does a really good job of getting teeth (and spaces between teeth) clean, and has a suctioned bottom that allows for easy (and clean) storage when not in use.

If your child hates his manual toothbrush, maybe he’ll get excited about an electric one. Some parents use a Kid’s Sonicare for their older kids, which works great, but I find it to be way too stimulating for little ones. For this age, we recommend:

Oral B Pro-Health Electric Toothbrush ~ $7.99

This battery powered rotary brush makes brushing more interesting without being overstimulating. And trust me, finding a toothbrush with your kiddo’s favorite Disney character always sweetens the deal!

Please see our other toothbrush recommendations here.


When it comes to toothpaste, again, dentists prefer you use a smear of fluoride toothpaste. If you don’t want to use fluoride, that’s fine too. Remember, it’s the act of brushing that’s the most important.

For fluoride-free toothpaste, the favorite is Orajel Training Toothpaste. The advantage here is not worrying about using too much.

Some tried-and-true recs with fluoride include: Crest Pro-Health Stages Toothpaste (my kids love this stuff!!)

Tom’s of Maine Natural Anti-Cavity Toothpaste and Colgate Children’s 2-in-1.

Dental Floss

Plackers Kids Flossers ~ $11 for a 4-pack (75 flossers per pack)

Want your kids to floss their teeth? Just give them floss that tastes like candy! These flossers have been a lifesaver in my house; they are “fruit smoothie swirl” flavor, contain fluoride, and have a wide and easy-to-grip handle for smaller hands. Kids can take a stab at doing it themselves, and then parents should “check” their work (aka – floss for realsies) when they are done.

We know brushing your toddler’s teeth is no easy feat — your child has opinions now, and wants to be in full control. The struggle is real, but you’ve got this!

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