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How to brush a child's teeth properly? - Japanese Dental Hygienist - Dental Care Part 1

Do you need to floss your child's teeth every day? Are electric toothbrushes effective for toddlers? What age should a child start brushing their own teeth? HOW do we properly use the correct toothbrush anyway?

Well, I thought I knew. I thought we were doing just fine. The first time I brought Lucas to the dentist at three years old (and regularly after that), the dentists did not teach me otherwise.

The dentists we visited (yes, dentists with an S because we've been to 4 dental clinic back in the Philippines), only asked what toothpaste little Mr. used and prescribed a gum paste.

Here in Japan. The dental hygienist taught me how to properly brush a child's "baby teeth". Also, we were taught what brushes to use, which consists of 3 different toothbrushes. To my surprise, I was told that flossing should be done daily for children too.

There is a lot I'd like to share regarding our experience with dental care. I thought I'd break it down so that it won't be too long of an article. In this first part, I'm going to share exactly what the dental hygienist taught us, complete with a video demonstration. I'd also share some tricks that worked for us over the years.

PART 1: How to brush a child's teeth properly? I will start with this question because this is the most crucial step. This is preventive and the rest is a detective or corrective. Oops, sorry that sounded like Internal Control Types.

Regular AND proper brushing is in place to keep cavities from occurring in the first place. 

A regular visit to the dentist is required to detect cavities that may have occurred. No matter how strict you are with sweets or how diligent you are with brushing. Don't blame yourself mama! 

Corrective procedures are sometimes required because even if we brush our teeth, and visit the dentist regularly, cavities are just too sneaky! Plus the fact that each of us, according to God's engineering plan, was designed differently. My wisdom tooth may need an extraction, while yours do not. Some children may need dental braces to align and straighten teeth, while some were born with a perfect bite.

Ugh! That sounded like an auditor talking! Wait... I was one, not too long ago. LOL!

So, we all agree that we brush our teeth to prevent cavities. How do we know we are doing it the right way? Are we doing more harm than good?

1. On getting the child's cooperation - some tricks that worked for us
2. Reserve some patience - well, because it is never an easy task
3. 5 Tools to help you do the job right and HOW- what the dental hygienist taught us
4. The right toothpaste - no, I won't recommend anything I promise!

1. Getting the child's cooperation

The hard part is always in getting the child's cooperation. Brushing a toddler's teeth is very challenging.  You need to have different techniques up your sleeves. Here are a few of mine:
  • Start with a character toothbrush and toothpaste - superheroes, hello kitty, minions, etc. There's a reason why they are strategically placed by the cashier. Little Mr. would always grab one he knows he doesn't have.
  • Divert their attention - sing, tell an animated story, make them laugh (but not too much!)
  • Get them on board - teach them the importance of brushing. There are tons of videos & apps about it,
  • Scare them - tell them what will happen to their teeth if they don't cooperate,
  • Bad breath alert! - let them smell their bad breath,
  • The usual but relevant threat- tell them that if they don't cooperate then they can't eat their favorite snack.
2. Reserve some patience for this task. 

You were at the office all day, do you have enough energy and patience to brush your toddler's teeth? Before, I get really mad if little Mr. doesn't cooperate.  When I know I'm starting to get mad, I make silly faces at him or hug him real tight to calm myself down. He thought it was funny and would always end up laughing. He had no idea I was about to turn Hulk!  At 5 years old now, it's easier to talk to him.

How to brush a child's teeth properly
Watch video on how to properly use them


We first visited a dentist here in Japan last September. Aside from the main doctor, they have a hygienist.  After the dental procedures, the hygienist asked how I brush Lucas' teeth, what brushes do I use, how often, how I hold the toothbrush etc. 

It turned out, I was using the wrong tools all along!

What toothbrush did we use before? We were using an automatic toothbrush for kids. We started with it since he turned 4 years old.

I thought it was doing a good job! I found it especially useful because it's easier for them to brush by themselves. The brushes rotate on its own, after all.

However, the dental hygienist insisted that manual brushing remains to be best for kids.  After learning about it, it all made sense. She recommended below brushes.  

The frequency of brushing should be every after a meal.  However, Lucas is in school the whole day and brushing is not part of their routine.  She said I only need to make sure to thoroughly clean his teeth before sleeping at night.

Watch the video at the end of this article for the demo.

a. Interspace soft toothbrush [AM or PM]

These brushes were designed for more difficult to reach areas. Using this toothbrush for each of the teeth (inside and outside of each tooth) will ensure that you clean their small teeth thoroughly. It will make sure that you cover all the areas gently.

How to brush a child's teeth properly
Credit: mouth photo from Better Health Channel -

What's wrong with an automatic toothbrush for kids? As explained to me, even automatic brushes for kids don't have heads with small brushes. Also, electric toothbrushes make a lot of bubbles. Kids are not yet good in terms of holding off toothpaste bubbles and spitting, so they may swallow some of that toothpaste. 

b. Regular & age-appropriate toothbrush [AM & PM]

We were taught to use this toothbrush on the top of the teeth or the chewing part. Interspace toothbrush is for inside and outside, while the regular brushes are for the top. In the morning, I let little Mr. brush his own teeth. Since he doesn't' know how to use the interspace toothbrush yet, he uses this toothbrush for inside & outside AND for the top of his teeth after breakfast in the morning.

c. Tongue scraping [AM and PM]

 A research study in 2004 found that using a tongue scraper can reduce 30% of volatile sulfur compounds (it's the one responsible for bad breath or halitosis) more than a regular toothbrush. Tongue scrapers are usually plastic, copper, or stainless steel. However, children are more sensitive and will not be comfortable with those materials.  I used a plastic tongue scraper with Lucas before, and he complained that it hurts even when I'm being gentle.

There is however, a tongue toothbrush available that we can use. It is better than not brushing the tongue at all, right? The shape of these brushes makes it easier to brush the tongue since you'd have to be able to reach the farthest part to make sure you clean the tongue. There is a risk of gagging when cleaning the tongue. Using this type of toothbrush will make the brushing experience a little easier.

d. Floss [PM] 

Surprise? Me too! I did not think there was a need for flossing because there are big spaces in-between children's teeth anyway. If food gets stuck, I see it right away and I can easily take them off.  Well, apparently, flossing the side of each tooth helps remove sticky food and ensure that there is really no food stuck. 

I wondered why Lucas got cavities despite regular brushing and visit the dentist, stopping bottle-feeding early, and not eating ice cream or candies. The dentist told me that it depends on the kind of food that they usually eat and the time that they eat them. I'll talk about this in detail in the next related articles.

e. Mouthwash (Optional - PM)

Mouthwashes shouldn't be swallowed and each child will be different when it comes to spitting.  Lucas has been good at it since he was three years old. However, we started with mouthwash just recently. For the correct type of mouthwash, it is better to consult your dentist as I was told that it will depend on the acidity level. We just started using it here in Japan and Lucas likes the grape flavored one.

4. Toothpaste - age-appropriate and depending on what kind of toothpaste your child can tolerate. Our dentist in the Philippines (the last one in Greenbelt) recommended Happee toothpaste for kids.  Here, they did not recommend anything. I use regular toothpaste with Lucas already.

Our Experience so Far (8 months)

For little Mr. - He has been cooperative although most of the time he still asks if we really need to use all the toothbrushes. He would sometimes request for me to use only the basic ones.

For Me - Sometimes I feel lazy too. However, I always think about how it's still a long time before he gets his permanent teeth. How I don't want him to get cavities, toothache, or broken teeth. How it's all on me - so yes I scare myself with that guilt-trips!

What have you learned so far? How do you brush your child's teeth?

Leave comments here or add me in my social media accounts.  If it's okay with you, you can share your experience with your dentist here too. If you have additional questions, leave it here so I can answer it in my next articles.

| RELATED ARTICLE Coming Soon: Dental Care Part 2 - At What Age should I bring my child to the dentist? How do I ensure that they won't be scared?

Disclaimer: I am not a dental expert. This is to share what we have personally experienced and learned. Your child may require cleaning requirements and some other dental procedures.  It is best to see your pediatric dentist is the best source of information. 


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