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Stephen Fox D.M.D. | Member American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry

Brushing & Flossing

Brushing up on Tooth Brushing

  • Parents should brush pre-schoolers teeth and supervise the brushing for school-age children until they are 7 to 8 years of age to make sure they are doing a thorough job. Each child is different. Dr. Fox and his hygienist can help you determine whether your child has mastered this important skill.
  • Toddlers can and should be encouraged to help brush their teeth as soon as they can hold a brush.
  • Nineteen of 20 parents say that giving children a toothbrush specifically designed for them motivates their children to brush their teeth.
  • Choose a toothbrush specifically designed for children’s smaller hands and mouths. Look for large handles that help children control the toothbrush.
  • The best toothbrushes have soft, round-ended (polished) bristles that clean while being gentle on the gums. Remember to throw out a toothbrush after 3 months or sooner if the bristles are fraying. Frayed bristles can harm the gums and are not effective in cleaning teeth.

How to Brush

Proper brushing removes plaque from the inner, outer and chewing surfaces. When teaching children to brush, place the toothbrush at a 45 degree angle where your gums and teeth meet. Start along the gum line, move the brush in a gentle circular motion several times. Brush the mouth in quarter sections, brushing the outer, inner and biting surfaces of a quarter before going to another portion. Finish by brushing the tongue to help freshen the breath and remove bacteria.

After you are done, rinse with water to remove any plaque or particles you may have loosened while brushing.

Children 3 and younger are most susceptible to enamel defects caused by swallowing fluoride toothpaste. Either use no toothpaste at all, or put only a pea-sized amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste on the toothbrush and encourage children to spit out the toothpaste, not swallow it.

Many toothpastes and/or tooth polishes can damage young smiles. They contain harsh abrasives which can wear away young tooth enamel. *Make sure you pick a toothpaste that is recommended by The American Dental Association.


Flossing removes plaque between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach. Flossing should begin when any two teeth touch. For the younger child, a parent should floss the child’s teeth, until they can do it properly on their own. It is important to develop the proper technique.

How to Floss

Start with a piece of floss (waxed is easier) about 18” long. Lightly wrap most of the floss around the middle fingers of both hands.

To clean the upper teeth, hold the floss tightly between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Use a gently, back and forth motion to guide the floss between the teeth. Do not force the floss or try to snap it in place. Curve the floss into a c-shape and slide it into the space between the gum and tooth until you feel resistance. Gently move the floss up and down the side of the tooth.

Remember there are two surfaces that need to be cleaned in each space. Continue to floss each side of the upper teeth. To clean between the bottom teeth, guide the floss using the forefinger of both hands. Gently scrape the floss against the side of the tooth, moving the floss up and down on the side of each tooth. Do not forget the back side of the last tooth on each side, top and bottom. Floss holders may be used if you or your child has trouble holding the floss in your hands.

Be careful not to cut the gum tissue between the teeth. When you are done, rinse with water to remove plaque and food particles.

Do not be alarmed during the first week of flossing if your gums hurt while flossing, you could be doing too hard. As you floss daily to remove the plaque, your gums will heal and the bleeding will stop.

Every six months cleanings by the hygienist or Dr. Fox are recommended. Daily brushing and flossing will keep dental calculus to a minimum, but a professional cleaning will remove calculus in places your toothbrush and floss have missed.

Regular periodic exams every six months are an important part of your health program.