By: Dr. Justin Whitney

My wife and I have two small kids under the age of four. One thing I have learned as a parent is sometimes children just don’t want to brush their teeth. Sometimes it is as easy as it can be, while other times I think I’m going to start a wrestling match. However, did you know that doing just a few simple things can really help them and you a ton?

  • Brush twice every day. The best advice I can give to someone is to have your child (and you) brush every day. The ideal scenario is to brush twice daily to get rid of as much plaque as possible, but it should absolutely happen every day. A good rule of thumb is early in the morning and just before bed. As a dentist, I recommend to all my patients to brush for two minutes each time. There are really cool apps on your devices or interesting toothbrushes with timers that can make this more fun for kids.
  • The most important time to brush is right before bed. Did you know that when we are asleep the germs that cause cavities start working overdrive? That is because while we sleep our mouths tend to get drier and the acidity increases. As this happens, the oral environment becomes the perfect place for decay-causing bacteria to really start working. But by brushing just before bed you deny a lot of the things those sneaky sugar bugs really need to thrive.
  • Fluoride toothpaste is best. As long as your child understands and demonstrates the ability to brush their teeth and spit out the toothpaste, using fluoride toothpaste is best. If they are too small to understand this, fluoride-free training toothpaste is great. And you don’t need much. Children under the age of 3 should only have a smear of toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. Anyone over the age of 3 should use no more than a pea-sized amount.
  • Don’t rinse your mouth after brushing. Growing up it was just part of my daily routine to rinse my mouth after brushing my teeth. But then I realized I had been doing it wrong for years! The fluoride in your toothpaste works best if it can stay on your teeth for about 30 minutes after you brush. Eating or drinking immediately afterwards literally just washes it away. So next time after you brush your teeth, spit out the excess and just enjoy the freshness of your mouth. Your teeth and dentist will thank you later.
  • Don’t forget to floss. This is probably the hardest thing to get in the habit of doing. While brushing gets all the obvious areas clean, only floss can clean in between the teeth.
  • Get regular dental exams. Did you know that even kids can start getting cavities as soon as teeth are exposed to the oral environment? The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children should see the dentist by the age of 1 or at least within 6 months of getting their first teeth. Establishing a good rapport with your dentist and establishing a plan is the best way to ensure your child has the best experience possible with their teeth.
  • Let them get involved. Kids love to do things themselves. I bet my 3-year-old reminds me of this almost every day. And while it is good to let them brush their teeth, we can’t assume they did it effectively. So, after they have brushed for a while, make sure you go over the teeth again. This way not only will your kids feel somewhat independent, but they will learn and get clean teeth in the process.


Dr. Justin Whitney

Assistant Professor of Comprehensive Dentistry, University of Louisville School of Dentistry

KOHC Steering Committee Member