July 02, 2015

Q: How do I know if my child's teeth are really getting clean when she brushes?

A: We know it's cute when your preschooler can perch on her stepstool to brush her teeth before bed, but the truth is there's no way she's doing a good enough job. Until your child is at least 6 or 7 years old she'll lack the manual dexterity to really remove debris from her teeth effectively, and you'll need to follow up. Tell your child that brushing is a two-person job, and let her brush her own teeth for about one minute, then step in. Don't make her feel like she hasn't done a good job, rather, compliment her work and explain you're just going to finish up. You should also floss your kid's teeth every day -- it's easier if you use the disposable Y-shaped flossing tools. Once your kid is old enough to brush totally on her own, it still pays to be vigilant and follow up. It's common for kids to run the brush under the faucet without actually cleaning. If your child doesn't want you to stand by and watch, explain what can happen if she doesn't take care of her teeth and how uncomfortable major dental work can be. Share a few of your own experiences if you have them. --Richard Laliberte

Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the September 2001 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009

Answered by Parents Team