Brushing Kids’ Teeth :: Expert Advice from a Pediatric Dentist and Mom

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Birmingham Moms Collective is back with advice from a local pediatric dentist / mom entrepreneur extraordinaire: Dr. Quyen Ying of Liberty Park Children’s Dentistry. As a mother herself, she understands firsthand the daily struggle to keep our children’s teeth and gums healthy. She’s learned a thing or two through the years and shares with us her best tricks and advice. 

Setting a Routine Early

One thing Dr. Ying cannot stress enough is getting into a routine, and setting it early. Ideally around a baby’s third month, parents should start an oral hygiene routine. Even when infants don’t yet have teeth, their gums and tongue are full of grooves that harbor bacteria. So it’s important to wipe a washcloth over the gum pads, under the lips, and the tongue before setting your baby down to sleep each night. 

Introducing Toothpaste

Once a baby starts cutting teeth (anywhere from 4 months through 18 months), now is the time to buy a slip on finger toothbrush and continue the above routine as well. Dr. Ying recommends using the equivalent of the size of a rice pellet of fluoride toothpaste (yes, fluoride) at this stage. She suggests barely squeezing the toothpaste tube and putting just a tiny smear of it on the toothbrush. Be sure to brush those new pearly whites, the gums, under the lips, in the inner cheek pockets and tongue, then follow that with a quick wipe over with a washcloth to remove any remaining toothpaste.
Does your child detest the taste of minty or bubble gum toothpaste? Dr. Ying suggests Tom’s of Maine Silly Strawberry toothpaste (which smells great, but has very little taste) and Tanner’s Cha Cha Chocolate (or Vanilla) toothpaste.

The Lying Down Routine

Around the one year mark, you can begin lying your baby down either in your lap, the sofa, or the floor each night to conduct the nightly brushing routine. This actually helps train your child for his or her first dentist visit, plus it helps you as the parent get a clear picture of the teeth. 
Dr. Ying suggests handing your child a toy to play with or a mirror where he or she can watch and become involved. There will be good days and bad days, but the overall goal is to set this routine and continue it as your children grow. Children have strong cheek and lip muscles and often clinch their teeth when they don’t want to open wide for a brushing. This is when a toy or mirror can help distract them. Set the stage now to ease fears surrounding oral health.
How adorable is this picture?! Dr. Ying demonstrates brushing with her youngest lying on the floor!
Dr. Ying also suggests just making a game out of it. Her kids love it when they play that their teeth are racetracks and the toothbrush is the engine chugging along the lines of their teeth. Isn’t she the best?!
Parents can also incorporate fun apps such as the Disney Magic Timer Oral-B app for kids which encourages them to brush longer and unlock fun prizes.


Once teeth start touching each other, it’s time to start flossing. This usually begins around age three or four, but it can be much sooner for some children. At the nightly lying down brushing routine, begin to introduce flossing. She suggests setting realistic goals. For example, start by alternating different areas of the mouth to floss on different nights. That way, you’re taking baby steps and not fighting for an entire mouth floss each night. Does your child have bad gag reflexes? Simply start in the front and go back one tooth further each night to get your child used to it.

Floss sticks and GumChucks are great tools to introduce flossing to young ones.

Dr. Ying says the general rule of thumb is that once kids are old enough to tie their shoes, they’re old enough to handle flossing on their own.

As kids grow into upper elementary, middle school, and beyond, many slack off–especially once braces enter the scene. At this point, Dr. Ying recommends specialized toothpaste and mouthwashes with additional fluoride as well as a Waterpik flosser


Yes, Dr. Ying sees three year olds with cavities. She’s even seen cavities in a patient as early as 15 months (gasp!). So she’s passionate about educating parents and caregivers on the importance of starting good routines and early dental visits.

The First Visit

This was news to me (news I wish I had known years ago): the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends babies have their first dental visit at one year of age. This is the perfect opportunity to establish a dental relationship, learn more about how diet (think milk, fruit juice, and other sources of sugar) can affect a baby’s gum and teeth health, as well as discuss what to do in the event of mouth trauma (after all, toddlers do fall)!

Dr. Ying and a colleague performing a knee-to-knee dental exam for an infant.

Dr. Ying and her team are currently taking new patients, so contact them today to set up your baby’s first dental appointment!