The issue of how long your child should brush his or her teeth might have an answer that’s easy to quantify, but putting it into actual practice as a parent can certainly be difficult at times. It’s not uncommon for kids to not always like brushing their teeth. Sometimes, no matter what a parent does, children resist brushing their teeth. They come up with a bunch of excuses, try to delay, or refuse altogether. Adults aren’t much better. Even though it’s recommended to brush for 2 minutes, most people on average brush for only about 45-70 seconds!
Family dentists are largely in agreement: children should brush their teeth for at least 2 minutes per session, twice a day. The recommendation to brush twice a day is based on the rate at which plaque can form on the teeth. Brushing twice a day will disrupt that process and minimize any issues.
While it’s important for your child to brush their teeth for at least 2 minutes, it’s just as important for them to use proper techniques. Have your child work in a circular motion when brushing the outside surfaces of their teeth. Make sure they don’t move their brush horizontally back and forth. One dentist said that she brushed her 9-year-old son’s teeth after he had finished. While some parents might not want this level of involvement with older kids, you will definitely have to help your little ones to make sure they are brushing long enough.
Brushing a third time each day is also beneficial, but not always realistic for busy kids, especially if they spend a large part of their day outside their home and on the go.
Dental hygienists recommend that everyone brush their teeth after eating. That’s not always possible, especially for kids who might like to graze and eat multiple small meals a day. And obviously, when kids are in school they don’t have easy access to brush their teeth after lunch.
It surprises parents sometimes to know that dentists actually recommend a soft toothbrush. While some adults might like firm toothbrushes, fewer kids usually do. Using a firm toothbrush is not going to reduce your child’s brushing time, though. It’s still important for your kids to brush for two minutes a day, even if they use a medium or firm toothbrush. And the two-minute rule also applies to little kids and big kids!
Be mindful of the fact that if your child is sick with a virus and vomiting, it’s not reasonable to expect them to maintain their normal schedule of dental hygiene, including brushing their teeth. There will be days on occasion when your child simply cannot brush their teeth for the required amount. For those rare circumstances, try having your child brush their teeth with water for as long as they can tolerate it. If your child vomits, don’t rush to immediately brush their teeth afterward. Wait at least 30 minutes or more and have them rinse with water first. The acidity present after vomiting can damage enamel if they immediately brush your teeth.
If you have young children, make it a fun game for your child to brush their teeth every day, and you should have every little trouble with getting them to cooperate.
You can try offering some sort of reward if they stick to their routine. For instance, you can take them out for ice cream on the weekend if they stick with their brushing routine every day in a row for an entire week. Or maybe buy them the new sneakers that they wanted if they brush their teeth according to the set schedule for two months straight.
A reward that has a quicker turnaround can work too. Require your child to brush their teeth before they can play their new favorite video game or play with their toys once they brush their teeth. If their birthday is around the corner, you can tell them they can’t open their birthday presents until they have brushed their teeth for the full two minutes.
Rewards-based methods can be used in conjunction with a fun toothbrush–your local grocery store will often have one of the cartoon characters from your kid’s favorite cartoon TV show or movie. You can get a manual toothbrush (like the ones your child will get at the family dentist after their check-up except they’re more fun) for your child to really work on their brushing technique, or you can get them an electric toothbrush, which could make them more interested in reaching the full two minutes; their hand is less likely to get tired because there is a less manual effort on their part. The different toothbrush options are also great if you have multiple children because then you can get different ones that match their own preferences (in terms of color, character, and whether it is a manual or electric toothbrush). To make it even more fun, you as a parent can get a fun toothbrush too, to really encourage everyone to get involved in daily brushing activities.
Additionally, if your child’s brushing routine has been less than ideal, it may be difficult to go from sporadic, short sessions to the full recommended 2-minute mark twice a day. Instead, it can be helpful to work your child up in increments. Start off at 15 seconds, and increase each time they brush. Ideally, they should always brush the full 2 minutes twice a day, but anything is better than nothing, especially when you’re dealing with an uncooperative child. And a few days of working up to the full two minutes should go a long way toward getting your child to start building a habit so they won’t slip into unhealthy habits in the future.
When your child is really young and only has baby teeth in his mouth, it can be easy to think that any cavities they get aren’t too big of a concern because those teeth will fall out anyway. However, permanent damage can still occur. Forming good habits with toothbrushing can make all the difference when your child has permanent teeth. Also, if the dental problems become so bad in their baby teeth, it can negatively impact the adult teeth that haven’t erupted yet.
Orthodontics is very common nowadays. If your child gets braces, it is even more important for them to maintain the two-minute twice-a-day brushing routine. Ideally, though, they should brush even more than twice a day. Braces can cause food to get stuck in between the spaces of the braces, which can make your child more susceptible to cavities and other dental problems. Most family dentists and orthodontists instruct patients in braces to brush after every single time they eat due to the increased risk of cavities and other dental problems.
Always use toothpaste with fluoride when brushing your child’s teeth. This way, they benefit from the cavity prevention that fluoride offers. Don’t neglect to floss just because your child has met the minimum number of minutes of daily brushing. Flossing is very important too.
Dentists actually recommend that you floss before you brush your teeth. Many people reverse the order of the two because the dentist or hygienist often asks patients, “Do you brush and floss regularly?” This causes people to think they should brush and then floss. Make sure you remember the right order: floss first, then follow up with brushing.
There is also some debate over whether or not mouth rinses should be used in addition to flossing and brushing for two minutes twice a day. Family dentists often recommend an anti-cavity rinse after brushing in order to reduce your child’s risk of cavities. These rinses come in fun flavors such as bubble gum, so pick one your child likes so they actually end up using it!
Some dentists might even recommend using a water pick as well. Water picks can be found in stores or online and can be used in addition to flossing to really make sure you get everything that is in between your teeth and in the hard-to-reach places before you begin brushing. Many adults use water picks but often don’t bother adding them to their child’s dental hygiene routine particularly if it’s hard enough to encourage your kids to brush regularly let alone any additional measures. However, it might help as a substitute for flossing because it is less invasive than trying to floss in between every single tooth. It’s also really fun and doesn’t have the strong toothpaste taste that children tend to complain about, so it can serve as a simple first step before brushing for two minutes.
Overall, children should brush their teeth just as often as the adults in their life do; twice a day for two minutes each time.
As mentioned earlier, there are factors that might lead your child to not meet that requirement on a particular day including:
If your child drinks soda or eats candy, you might even want them to brush more often than the twice-daily recommendation. And if they are older with braces or have more permanent teeth, then it’s even more important to be vigilant and brush regularly for the minimum amount of time recommended.
Parents often wonder how they can make sure their child is brushing for the full two minutes. The best way is to take the guesswork out of the equation. The go-to solution for many parents is to set a timer on their cell phone, but then there is the risk of their device getting wet especially if their kids are messy in the bathroom and have water end up everywhere but the bathtub! Of course, you can also use a kitchen timer as well.
However, other convenient options exist. There are timers that attach to the wall that can be set for two or three minutes. Once the timer goes off, your child knows that they are done brushing. This can keep the child engaged in the process and increase their cooperation.
Another way to think about the 2-minute recommendation is that one minute is spent brushing the top teeth and another minute is spent brushing the bottom teeth. One way to explain it to your kid to help them hit that two-minute mark and cover all areas of their mouth is to have them brush each section of their mouth for 30 seconds. So they would brush the upper right section, for instance, for 30 seconds, then the upper left, then the bottom right, followed by the bottom left. Whichever order they want to go in is fine. It is less counting on their part, which is crucial especially if you have a pesky kid that likes to count really fast.
Instead of using a timer, you can play your child’s favorite song and tell them they’re not done brushing until the song ends. It certainly helps to get your kid involved in the process too. They will be more eager to brush their teeth if you let them choose the toothbrush, and toothpaste, and how they want to track their progress to reach two full minutes when they brush twice a day. Not only will this encourage them to brush their teeth, but it will also give them some autonomy, which can be crucial to your child’s development. It also helps them learn how to express their likes and dislikes. Whichever dental tools and whichever method you and your child choose, it can also be helpful for you two to brush your teeth together if possible, particularly if your kids are young. This can turn a boring activity into a fun one and serve as some bonding time for both of you.