Brushing a Toddlers Teeth: Two Sides

This post is mostly full of questions. I’m sorry I don’t have anything informative or entertaining to share! 🙂  I’m in a (friendly) argument with one of my friends over when you should start brushing a toddlers teeth.

Side A: You should start brushing your toddlers teeth when he or she has teeth. Starting from an early age forms a healthy habit and teaches them young about why/when we brush our teeth. It also leads to  healthy mouth and gums and (could possibly, right?) prevent cavities!

Side B: There is no point in brushing your toddlers teeth until all his or her teeth fall out. They’re going to fall out anyways – what’s the point of brushing them?

I’ll let you guess what side I stand on. 🙂


When did you start brushing your toddlers teeth?

Do you do it at night after bath/shower or in the morning, or both?!

Has a dentist ever told you when you should start?

Have you ever taken your two, three, four year old to the dentist and had to fork over a huge wad of cash because they have cavities?? Just wondering because I’m terrified of that happening.

Is it more important that the parents brush their teeth to make sure we are actually cleaning the teeth and gums, or is it okay to let the toddler do it by themselves for fun and practice even though a whole lot of tooth scrubbing might not be happening? (Wow longest sentence ever.)

What do you think?

Published by Samantha Mellen

Certified personal trainer & health coach helping women transform their lives through fitness, abundant mindset coaching and internal peace. Mom of two boys, living life in Alaska.

29 thoughts on “Brushing a Toddlers Teeth: Two Sides

  1. I started when my son got his first teeth, we weren't really good about it until he had quite a few teeth and upgraded from an infant gummy toothbrush to a real one. Now he's 23 months and we brush his teeth every night (mostly) but don't really worry about the morning yet. We probably will start doing first thing in the morning when he gets a little bigger. I definitely think you should start early – it doesn't hurt right? and it instills a healthy habit and it's a part of the nighttime and morning routine that they will have their entire lives!

  2. I brush my children's teeth starting as soon as they begin teething (as the first tooth starts to come through, for my kids that's somewhere around their first birthday). I start out by brushing their teeth for them and then I let them brush. I know someone, in fact, who just had to pay a ton of money for their toddler to get cavities taken care of. *shudder*

    I only brush their teeth before bed but that is only because I forget, every FRACKING time, to do it in the morning. My goal is 2x per day.

  3. So, I'm not sure that I'm the best example, but I'm in camp A.

    Our pedi told us to start brushing as soon as he had teeth. We're *pretty* good at it. It's part of bedtime routine. We shower (he LOVES the shower but hates baths – weirdo), brush teeth, but on diaper, put on PJs…in that order.

    We do “mommy/daddy gets a turn” then “S gets a turn.” I think the most important part is the habit forming; our pedi seems to think the most important part is him having clean teeth. So we do both :).

    I just started using baby toothpaste b/c all the moms in playgroup do and so I thought I should to ;).

  4. I'm definitely on the brushing is important side of the (friendly) argument!
    We started brushing around age 1 with just a brush and water (no paste) and started using all natural, non flouride paste closer to 2. We brush twice a day and floss using the little floss picks at night.
    Our brushing rule is that Mom brushes first and then she can go over and get any of the spots I “missed” 🙂
    Of course there are days that a 2 1/2 year old doesn't really want any help but as long as she gets one good brushing a day (usually the night one) then I think we're doing pretty good.
    I've yet to take her to the dentist though.. Planning that for the end of March! Fingers crossed for a good check up!

  5. I have seen several children who have had silver baby teeth (in the front) because their teeth weren't brushed and they were given too much sugary candies, etc before bedtime…

    That being said, I'm not incredibly for or against either side of the argument. Generally speaking, I will give my daughter Kairi (22 months) a tooth brush and let her play with it while my 6 year old and I are brushing our teeth. She does a pretty good job for herself. If I notice some build up on her teeth, I will brush them for her from time either with a tooth brush or a wet wash cloth.

    Given the opportunity, most kids of toddler age will take care of their teeth on their own, without even realizing it. One of the suggestions my pediatrician gave me was to give Kairi a washcloth to play with in the tub. She chews on it and it rubs her teeth and does pretty much all you need to do for a kid of that age. I told her that I was letting her play with a toothbrush while Gracie and I brush our own teeth and she said that was a great idea as well, and that we probably needn't do much more than that, except for the times that buildup is noticeable.

  6. We started with baby toothpaste and a finger brush when Peeper got her first tooth. Now (27 mos) she brushes for a while with her Cookie Monster tooth brush, then Mama has a turn, with a finger brush. That all happens while she watched Sesame Street videos on the computer.

    (Sigh. You do what ya gotta do. That's how we get her hair into pigtails, too.)

    Despite the brushing, at about 22 months, she had THREE front teeth capped (under general anesthesia), due to cavities, and has had another filled since then (we caught that one early and it was filled quickly in the office with no anesthesia needed).

    We've now had her molars sealed (will do her brand-new 2 year molars at her next appointment) so I mostly concentrate on the non-sealed, non-capped teeth, and sort of feel like I know we'll be filling more before they start falling out.

    There are those that will say it's the night nursing, but my research says that's BS, and she probably just has constitutionally weak teeth. We're hoping the permanent ones fare better!

  7. I'm for side A. If a babies teeth have damage it can easily effect the babies gums and permanent teeth. It's better to be on the safe side rather than put a little one through a possibly traumatizing dental procedure. Besides it just takes a few minutes!

  8. anonymous, yes 🙂

    Ryan, Lucas takes showers too! He's never been a fan of baths… I think that's cause he always took showers with his dad or I though since he was little.

    These are all great thoughts- thanks everyone!

  9. i haven't been that great about brushing jordan's. i *mean* to do it every day but i miss sometimes. before bed seems to go easier.

    i have tried to be better lately because my niece (who is fed TOTAL CRAP ALL THE TIME) had to have all her front teeth pulled. She's 3 now and people think that her teeth have come out naturally. it bothers me a lot that my SIL let that happen!

  10. We learned the hard way with the 5 year old. She had gotten 2 cavities and had to take her in when I was 8 months pregnant with my 2nd. Had to pay a butt ton of money to put her under because they can't do fillings/caps on under 5 year olds unless they are under general. But ever since then we have been good brushing her teeth nightly and she hasn't had any more cavities for 2 years! Also her diet has gotten healthier so that helped a lot too! (this was all over 2 years ago) NOW, my 2 year old son hasn't been to the dentist because we learned our lesson the first time around.

  11. I started as soon as Brady got his first tooth. We normally only brush them at night after his bath and right before bedtime! I have a friend that didn't brush her child's teeth and he had major issues and they even had to cap all of his teeth!! He was also in pain.
    Teeth are teeth and they need to be cleaned whether they are permanent or not! You can still get a toothache and have cavities if they are not permanent!!

  12. The outlook on “you don't have to brush because they'll fall out anyways” is not good. I work for a Children's Hospital and have 3 of my own. We recently had a child come in for surgery to have all his teeth removed because they were rotten (parents didn't brush the kid's teeth) and it also affected the permanent teeth. And of course it affects theire gums as well.

  13. Our dentist said you should start when they get teeth. We brush our 16 month daughters every night as part of her bed time routine.

    I wouldn't wait to start until their permanent teeth come in. They can get cavities in their baby teeth too. I don't know if you've ever had a cavity but they are really painful, why put your child through preventable pain? If their teeth do fall out prematurely (before their big ones are ready) I'd think that it would be like when you are old and your teeth fall out or you get them pulled, your jaw starts slowly deteriorating because there are no teeth to support your jaw.

    I don't want chance anything like that soooo, we brush!!

  14. I have a friend and cousin that are both dental hygenists. They both said that you should start brushing your baby's teeth as soon as they get them. Not only does it start a good habit but it prevents cavities in her future teeth. My cousin said that she's seen lots of kids come in with rotting teeth because their parents take the attitude that they don't need to brush because their baby teeth are going to fall out anyway. Not only can the rotting teeth cause infection and make your kid very very sick but the rot can effect the grown up teeth. The buds of the new teeth are already in your child's mouth and the rot reaches them and starts to rot them away too.
    So I would say just do what the dentists say and start brushing your baby's teeth AS SOON AS they get them.

  15. We started brushing our children's teeth as soon as they came in. They get to brush their own for a few minutes then we brush them for them. We do it in the morning and before bedtime. They saw a hygenist every 6 months after they got teeth as it was a free program here. She would look and chart the changes then do a bit of cleaning as needed. We live in a different area where this program is not available so not sure yet what we'll do when our youngest son's teeth come in but we will be brushing them for sure.

    I'm with the others that it's a great habit to start young and helps save the child possible pain/traumatic experience of cavities.

  16. When my son started getting his teeth i would give him a travel toothbrush, when he was sitting in the highchair after a meal, to just naw on. My mom worked for a dentist who said that was a great way to get babys teeth clean and get them used to the feeling of a toothbrush.

    My son is now 4 and we try really hard to brush his teeth morning and night, he has a little spin brush and also a regular toothbrush and picks which one he wants to use. We split his mouth into the 4 sections(top right, bottom right, top left, bottom left) and he brushes one section first than i go over it and so on so forth. He is going in for his first dentist appt soon and I am hoping that that will help in the fight he sometimes puts up for brushing his teeth.

    On a side note we also use a sticker chart for brushing teeth. It has really helped in getting him to brush his teeth, because at the end of the week he gets a special surprise if he has a stickers on all the spots(AM PM).

  17. Oh man, the earlier the better! Even when there are no teeth, you can get them used to the idea by brushing their gums or even letting them chew on a toothbrush. You could definitely wait to start brushing if you want your kid to be the one in Kindergarten with black teeth (I see MANY at my son's school!) And don't even get me started on the kids with all the silver teeth. I feel so bad for them! Yes they will fall out but decay can be so bad that it starts on the permanent teeth before they erupt. Just brush, brush, brush till your heart is content. Our rule is the kids can brush by themselves first, but then Mommy or Daddy get to finish. And start flossing early too, even before the teeth are in contact with each other. This is the best way to prevent cavities!

  18. I started when he was 6 months old with water and a finger brush then when he was around 1 I got a childs brush and baby toothpaste when he was 3 he would brush his teeth for 3 minutes (no lie) he said that he had to brush every tooth real good because he wanted pretty teeth. Needless to say he is 12 now and never had a cavity. Of course he has always eaten well.

  19. For all four of my kids I started even before they had teeth just to get them in the habit. I just used a damp washcloth on my finger and ran it over their gums. This helped get them in the habit. I kept doing that even after they had a few teeth, just wipe with slight pressure with the washcloth. I switched to the little baby toothbrush that slips over your finger when I started to notice they had 'morning breath”, LOL! I switched to a toddler toothbrush at age two. Our dentist doesn't see kids till age 3 and by that time they have a mouthful of teeth. None of my kids ever had cavities. Only my now 11 year old has ever had one and he has weak enamel or something like that.
    Good luck!

  20. When the teeth showed up is when we did it, at around a year or so we added the paste. Now she tries to suck it off, but I suggest (strongly) to her that she let me start out doing the brushing and she finish. Seems to work out pretty well that way. Oh and I don't remember every day, sometimes it's with a bath, and sometimes it's shortly after breakfast. My kid eats so there's not a real chance to NOT have food right back on it except at night and we aren't in 'that' routine yet!

  21. We actually started wiping gums right way upon birth with a soft damp cloth. This helps to keep the milk from staying on the gums and penatrating to the teeth under. Brushing began as soon as teeth began to show. I admit the wiping was not done everytime, but I tried. We brushed and still brush everynight after bath. We also sometimes brush in the mornings. We share the brushing at Night by my turn your turn. In the AM usually we let him do it himself. Dentists reccomend doing the wiping and brushings early on. Yes these teeth fall out, but they leave a lasting impression on the teeth below. I have not, but I work with 3-5 year olds and MANY of then have had to get extensive dental work from never brushing and parents felt that those teeth fall out so who cares. Their children had horrible teeth pain which caused difficulty with eating, playing, listening, learning, sleeping, and more.

    For our night time routine we use a fun characer electric toothbrush. I brush first and then J brushes. We sing twinkle twinkle little star a few times while brushing to make it fun.

  22. Not that you need another comment, I believe everything has been covered, but I wanted to agree that not taking care of baby teeth can cause major problems with permanent teeth. We see that a lot here in Guatemala. The infections get so bad, that the permanent teeth come in with cavities. 9 year olds w/ silver caps on the front 4 teeth! So sad.

    I read through Rachel's blog and geez! I'm gonna go floss my kids' teeth now.

  23. I started brushing as soon as they got their first tooth, and flossing once they had molars. They also use a rinse when they're done. I took my son to his first appointment when he was 4, and he hasn't had a cavity yet. My daughter will go after she turns 4 this month. I think it's really important to start healthy brushing habits at a young age!

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