Brushing & Flossing

At Young Smiles we always stress the importance of maintaining a good oral hygiene routine with our patients and their families. Achieving a clean, healthy smile starts with regular brushing and flossing. We brush and floss in order to remove food particles and plaque and bacteria that can accumulate on the teeth. The bacteria that result from this accumulation can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Brushing and flossing help avoid these unhealthy conditions and potentially costly treatments down the road.

When to start brushing

When there is only one or two teeth, parents should clean their child’s teeth with a soft cloth moistened with water at least once a day at bedtime. The more often you do this, the more your child will become used to having you doing something in their mouth. Some infants don't mind, and some will cry like it's the worst thing ever. Either way, cleaning your child's teeth is not hurting them and in fact, is doing just the opposite by preventing tooth decay and gum disease. Once there are three or more teeth, you should use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small “smear” of toothpaste on the tip of the brush. Prior to age two, the doctors at Young Smiles recommend a fluoride-free toothpaste. At age two and older, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste should be used. Don't worry that your child will most likely swallow all of the toothpaste, as spitting and rinsing effectively doesn't begin before age five. As long as you treat the toothpaste like medicine and control the amount as described, your child will not get too much fluoride. We strongly encourage parents to still participate in the actual brushing of their child's teeth until age six or seven. Prior to this age, children's lack of fine motor skills make them look like they're doing a lot of brushing, but the effectiveness of this brushing will be much less than if you do it for them. Of course you should always give them the opportunity to practice and improve, just go over their efforts to make sure the teeth are really clean.

When you brush your child’s teeth, or when they brush them themselves, follow these simple steps for optimal results:

  • Brush in small, circular motions to reach food particles at the gum line
  • Hold the toothbrush at an angle and brush slowly and carefully
  • Brush the outside, inside and chewing surfaces of the teeth
  • Brush the tongue and the roof of the mouth when possible

How often to brush

In order to avoid the accumulation of food particles and plaque, you should spend several minutes thoroughly brushing your teeth at these times:

  • In the morning after breakfast
  • After lunch or right after school
  • After dinner but before bedtime

Generally, two minutes is the recommended brushing time, but the total time is less important than the quality of the brushing. Kids can brush poorly for two minutes just trying to run down a timer, so the Young Smiles doctors recommend brushing in the same order each time. What does this mean? Have your child (or you if you are still helping them brush) start in say, the upper right hand side of the mouth. Brush just the fronts of the teeth all the way around to the left side. Then go back to the beginning (the upper right hand side) and repeat on just the edges ( the chewing surfaces) of the teeth. Lastly, and still on the top teeth only and starting again on the right side, brush the backside of the top teeth all the way around to the left side. Repeat on the bottom teeth: Front side, top side, then backside. Once you get the hang of it, the process takes about two minutes in a cooperative child and you are much less likely to inadvertently skip the same areas over and over which eventually leads to cavities.


Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean tight spaces between the teeth effectively. Dental floss, a thin thread of waxed nylon or teflon-type tape, helps clean those hard-to-reach tooth surfaces and reduces the likelihood of gum disease and tooth decay. We recommend flossing at least once a day, especially for children's baby teeth. Why? Children's most common kind of cavity is that which begins between the teeth due to their relatively thin enamel compared to permanent teeth. If you haven't been flossing your teeth or your child's teeth, you may see some bleeding at first. Don't be alarmed... This is a sign that you need to floss more regularly, not less! The bleeding occurs when the body pulls its defenses to the area of bacterial buildup in a process known as inflammation. Just touching inflamed gum tissue with a toothbrush or floss will cause it to bleed somewhat, but you can't clean it without touching it. After a couple of weeks of consistent flossing and brushing, the gum tissue heals and the bleeding will stop.