Dentist (Pediatric) Questions Teeth, And Gum Care

When should a child start brushing his own teeth?

My son is 5 years old and I still help him brush his teeth. He doesn't like doing it himself, but I don't want him to rely on me for too long. What should I do?

13 Answers


I can understand that! And you're doing the right thing by helping them. We recommend assisting them with brushing until the age of 8. Some good tools to make your life simpler is an electric toothbrush with a timer. You can also have him brush with something like "plaque HD" that dies any plaque blue, that way when you're brushing after, it makes the work easier on you.
Continue to help him as long as possible and as long as he "lets" you. Children do not have the dexterity to do a good job till 7 or 8 and in fact many adults don't do a good job as well! The longer you can help the better but stop before he goes to college....
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I recommend that you continue to brush your child's teeth until you feel that they are doing a good enough job on their own I have some parents with kids as old as 10 that are still helping with brushing their child's teeth. Every child is different, there is no age cut-off.
That's wonderful! He is exhibiting age-appropriate behavior with his disinterest in brushing and you're exhibiting solid parenting in helping him brush. Keep it up!!! Children typically don't do an appreciable good job of brushing until they are "smitten" by the gender of choice and realize that hygiene matters. That's usually in adolescence/high school age. Parents must continue to provide onsite "cheerleading" support and once in a while hands on help to maintain good oral hygiene. Parenting is a very demanding job, harder today then ever, but your child will develop independent, good oral hygiene practices eventually. Be patient.
This is a very good question and important for many reasons. We want our children to develop their independence and yet we want to safeguard their teeth with good brushing. The age range for successful brushing varies, but I personally ask my parents to brush their children's teeth twice per day (morning and night) using a "swipe" of fluoride toothpaste if the child still tends to swallow some and cannot rinse and spit until around age 6. Then, based on the child's dexterity, they can oversee once per day and actually assist until around age 7-9 years old. We must be very careful to keep the fluoride toothpaste out of reach of children who may swallow it. Now, flossing is another story. In my experience, children are about age 9 when they begin to be able to floss fairly well on their own. I ask parents to floss their children's teeth as soon as they notice food catching in between the molar region and this usually occurs about age 4. It is not wrong to start flossing earlier if you can. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has a nice site with videos to help children remember to brush twice per day and adds a fun aspect to this routine. Please visit and thank you for your question.

Dr. Barbara Utermark
Keep on helping. Especially important since permanent 6-year molars will be erupting in the not too distant future. Brushing them should be done with supervision for as long as necessary.
There are two parts to answering your questions. First, children should brush their own teeth when they develop the dexterity to do so. As your son continues to learn how to write, his ability to brush will naturally follow. Second, children need to develop a willingness to brush and an understanding of its importance. This is more variable and can take several more years to develop. Finally, I would add that engraining the habit of brushing for two minutes, twice daily now and brushing every surface of every tooth will benefit him as he begins to brush his own teeth. 

Marc D. Thomas
Your child can start brushing his own teeth when he has the manual dexterity (for example, when he is able to tie his shoe laces without them coming untied) and when he has the inclination (college?). If/when they are brushing their own teeth, it is advisable to at least check and see how well they are doing. Good luck!
Usually around 6 or 7 years old, or when they are able to tie their own shoes. Even then, they will need to be supervised.
the longer a parent or care giver can participate and share the tooth
brushing responsibilities the better off the child will be in the long
run. ideally you want to establish good habits as early as possible and
that includes brushing after, at the very least, breakfast and dinner. a
child can begin to share the brushing routine and be given more
responsibility by the time they can handle a fork and knife by
themselves. this exhibits good manual dexterity and therefore competency
to brush properly. getting them to stay in there long enough (at least 2
minutes) is another story ;))
Hello, your question is a commonly asked one and we use this simple rule to
decide when to allow solo brushing...
when a child is able to properly tie their own shoe lace, it is time for
some independent brushing, since the dexterity need to tie a shoe lace is
the same needed to manipulate the toothbrush in the molar regions. I hope
this helps.
Be sure to stop by for a visit so that we may evaluate further.
Thanks and I hope to see you soon.
Dr. Finlay
First I applaud you for brushing your child’s teeth and also for wanting him to be self-sufficient. You can’t brush his teeth forever. There is not one set answer or age to stop assisting you child’s tooth brushing because all children learn new skills at different times. One strategy for now might be to let him brush his teeth first while you watch and coach him. Then after he is done brushing, look at the teeth, are the teeth clean? Now is the time to take your turn and brush any areas that he missed. He gets a turn brushing and mommy gets a turn. If you do this consistently he will progress to being a great tooth brusher. Don’t forget flossing; it is very important. It will take a child a longer time to learn how to floss; it is a more complicated task.
Generally speaking, when a child can tie his own shoes, use scissors accurately or any other fine motor skill, they can be taught to brush by themselves. Your dentist or hygienist would be the best one to evaluate if he is doing an adequate job. Just like with any other developmental skill, some children can brush well at age 5 and others need assistance through age 10. Adult supervision is always recommended no matter what age to make sure they are getting all surfaces of the teeth.