How to Brush Infant Teeth

Ensuring proper dental care from the earliest stages of life is crucial for promoting lifelong oral health. As your infant transitions from gums to their first set of teeth, it's essential to adopt an appropriate brushing technique.

Brushing Technique

The technique for brushing infant teeth requires patience, gentleness, and the correct amount of toothpaste. The American Dental Association (ADA) provides clear guidelines to help parents and caregivers in this daily routine. The amount of toothpaste is critical because infants and toddlers have not yet developed the reflex to spit out toothpaste, making them more susceptible to ingesting fluoride, which in excessive amounts can lead to dental fluorosis.

Correct Amount of Toothpaste

The amount of toothpaste used for brushing an infant's teeth varies with age and developmental stages. Here's a detailed breakdown:

1. Rice Grain-Sized Amount for Under 3 Years

For infants and toddlers under the age of three, the recommended amount of toothpaste is akin to a grain of rice. This minimal amount ensures that the child receives enough fluoride to fight off cavities while significantly reducing the risk of ingesting too much fluoride. When applying the toothpaste, aim to spread it thinly across the bristles rather than creating a blob on top of the brush.

At this stage, focus on gently brushing all sides of the teeth — the inside, outside, and chewing surfaces. Since young children are prone to moving around, it might be helpful to sit them on your lap, facing away from you, to gain better control and visibility of their mouth during the process.

2. Pea-Sized Amount for 3 Years and Older

As children reach the age of three and start to develop a better understanding and control over spitting, the amount of toothpaste can be increased to a pea-sized amount. This increment is not merely about age but also about the child's ability to spit out toothpaste after brushing, minimizing ingestion. The pea-sized amount provides sufficient fluoride coverage for the larger surface area of the growing set of teeth while still being safe if accidentally swallowed in small quantities.

Brushing Method

Mastering the brushing method is as crucial as using the right amount of toothpaste when it comes to cleaning infant teeth. A proper technique not only ensures the removal of plaque and bacteria but also protects the delicate gums and emerging teeth of your infant. Here's how to effectively brush your infant's teeth:

1. Angle the Brush at 45 Degrees

Start by positioning the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. This angle is optimal for reaching the tiny crevices around the base of the teeth and the gum line, where plaque tends to accumulate. Holding the brush at this angle also allows the bristles to gently massage the gums, promoting healthy gum tissue without causing abrasion.

2. Gentle Circular Motions on Teeth and Gums

Using gentle circular motions, move the brush over the teeth and gums. Ensure that the movements are small and concentrated on one or two teeth at a time before moving on to the next set.

3. Brushing Each Tooth's Front, Back, and Chewing Surface

It's important to clean every surface of each tooth – the front, back, and chewing surfaces. For the front and back, maintain the 45-degree angle to gently brush down on the upper teeth and up on the lower teeth, ensuring the bristles interact with both the teeth and gums. For the chewing surfaces, hold the brush flat and apply gentle circular motions to clean the grooves and pits where food particles often get trapped.

4. Duration of Brushing (At Least 2 Minutes)

Duration matters when brushing teeth. The American Dental Association recommends brushing for at least two minutes to effectively remove plaque and bacteria. For infants and young children, keeping them engaged for this duration might be challenging.

Ensuring Complete Coverage

Achieving comprehensive coverage during the tooth-brushing routine is essential for maintaining oral health, especially in infants and young children whose teeth and gums are still developing. Effective cleaning helps prevent the build-up of plaque, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. Here are strategies and insights to ensure complete coverage, including tips for reaching back teeth and the importance of brushing the gum line.

Tips for Reaching Back Teeth

The back teeth, or molars, are often the most challenging to clean because they're hard to see and reach. are tips to effectively reach and clean these areas:

1. Use a Right-Sized Toothbrush: Choose a toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles. A smaller brush head is easier to maneuver in tight spaces, ensuring the back molars are not neglected.

2. Positioning: For infants and toddlers, sitting them on your lap facing away from you can give you better access and visibility to the back teeth. For older children, standing behind them and tilting their head slightly back can also provide good access.

3. Open Wide: Encourage your child to open their mouth wide by making it a fun game or by demonstrating how to do it. A wide-open mouth gives better access to the back teeth.

4. Guide Their Hand: If your child is brushing their own teeth, guide their hand a few times to teach them how to reach their back teeth. This can help them understand the motion and pressure needed.

Importance of Brushing the Gum Line

The gum line, where the teeth meet the gums, is a critical area for plaque accumulation and the start of gum disease. Properly cleaning this area is vital for both oral health and preventing conditions such as gingivitis.

1. Soft and Gentle Brushing: Use gentle, circular motions to brush the gum line, ensuring the bristles slightly enter the space under the gum.

2. Regular Check-ups: During dental visits, ask your dentist to show you and your child the correct way to brush the gum line. A professional demonstration can be very enlightening and improve your technique.

3. Monitor Gum Health: Pay attention to signs of inflammation or bleeding during brushing. These could indicate that the area isn't being cleaned properly or that too much force is being used. Adjust your technique accordingly and consult a dentist if issues persist.

Post-Brushing Routine

After the toothbrush has been put away, the post-brushing routine comes into play, an often overlooked but crucial part of dental care for infants and children. Make sure there is no excess debris or toothpaste in the mouth. For an infant, gently wipe the teeth and gums clean. In older kids have them spit out any excess toothpaste or use a small amount of water to help spit out any debris.  Avoid excessively rinsing with water after brushing.  This will diminish the effect that fluoride has on the teeth.  Avoid eating and drinking anything for 30 minutes after brushing.

Handling Swallowed Toothpaste

Swallowing a small amount of toothpaste, especially when it's within the recommended size (a rice grain or pea-sized amount), is generally not harmful. However, consistently ingesting large amounts of fluoride toothpaste over time can lead to dental fluorosis in developing teeth. To manage and minimize toothpaste swallowing, encourage and teach spitting after brushing as the child becomes capable.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Many infants and toddlers show resistance to brushing for various reasons, such as discomfort, independence, or simply not liking the sensation.


  • Make it Fun: Turn brushing time into a game or use storytelling to create a narrative around brushing.
  • Lead by Example: Let your child see you brushing your teeth and enjoying it. Children love to mimic adult behaviors, and this can encourage them to participate willingly.
  • Choose Child-friendly Dental Products: Toothbrushes with favorite characters and toothpaste with flavors appealing to children can make brushing more attractive.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise your child for a good brushing session. Rewards, such as stickers or an extra bedtime story, can also motivate them.

Dealing with Teething


  • Gentle Brushing: Use a soft-bristled brush and be extra gentle on the gums. Sometimes, merely rubbing the gums with a clean finger or a cold, damp cloth can provide relief and clean the area.
  • Cold Teething Toys: Offer refrigerated (not frozen) teething toys or wet washcloths before brushing to numb the gums and reduce discomfort temporarily.
  • Pain Relief: If teething is causing significant discomfort, consult with your pediatrician about pain relief methods, which may include appropriate doses of pain relievers or special teething gels.

Signs of Dental Issues in Infants

Early detection of dental issues is crucial for preventing more severe problems. Knowing what signs to look for can help parents act promptly.

Signs to Watch For:

  • White Spots or Lines: These may appear on the teeth and can be early signs of tooth decay.
  • Gums Redness or Bleeding: While some gum redness can be attributed to teething, persistent redness, swelling, or bleeding can indicate gum disease or infection.
  • Bad Breath: Consistent bad breath can be a sign of poor oral hygiene or dental problems.
  • Discomfort While Chewing: If your infant shows signs of discomfort or pain while chewing or refuses to eat, it might be due to toothaches or sore gums.


  • Consult a Pediatric Dentist: At any sign of dental issues, schedule a visit with a pediatric dentist for a professional evaluation. Early intervention can prevent more significant problems.
  • Review Oral Hygiene Practices: Ensure you're following proper brushing techniques and not missing any areas during cleaning.
  • Dietary Adjustments: Limiting sugary foods and drinks can help prevent tooth decay and promote overall oral health.

Encountering resistance, dealing with teething discomfort, and identifying signs of dental issues are all part of the journey. With the right approach and timely interventions, these challenges can be managed effectively, ensuring your infant's oral health is on the right track.

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