Brushing Through Childhood: 5 Milestones

Updated August 17, 2016

Dental health in children is crucial. It is something you need to be aware and alert to their entire lives to make sure their teeth are coming in at the appropriate times, they are taking care of them by brushing and flossing, and they are happy and pain-free. 

Even before your child’s first tooth appears, you may be wondering about dental milestones. You may also be wondering how you will afford the dental care your child needs. Although every child develops at a slightly different pace, below is a guide to important childhood milestones and when to expect them.


Image via Flickr by Mish Mish

Primary Teeth

Crying, drooling, and teething on everything; does this sound familiar? If your baby is performing these actions, they may be teething. Most babies get their first tooth when they are between 4 and 7 months old, but every child is different. Some babies will begin teething at 3 months, while others will still be toothless at their first birthday party. It’s even possible for a baby to be born with teeth already showing, although that is rare.

Teething usually follows the same basic pattern: two front bottom teeth followed by four front top teeth, then two more bottom teeth. After that, teeth keep coming in (usually two at a time) until, by your child’s third birthday, all 20 primary teeth are present. Baby teeth aren’t meant to be permanent, but properly caring for them is still important because they help guide your child’s permanent teeth into place.


It is critical to instill good brushing habits in your child early. Children learn by repetition, and if you can get them brushing their teeth twice a day at a young age, they will get used to it, and brushing will become a natural instinct.

Once your baby’s primary teeth start coming in, you should brush them with an infant toothbrush twice daily using a smear of toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice. Once your child turns 3, you can begin using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Using more than that could cause fluorosis (white or brown spots on your child’s permanent teeth). Train your child to spit out excess toothpaste instead of swallowing, starting around age 2, and remember that the same rules apply even if you use a fluoride-free toothpaste.

Of course, getting your child to brush will be difficult. While some children may pick up the habit quickly and make a smooth transition, other kids will fight you tooth and nail! For children who may be stubborn or irritable when it is time to brush their teeth, make brushing fun for them. You could make a game out of brushing. Give them a goal to meet and once they achieve that goal, they receive a special treat just for them. You can also put on your child’s favorite song. Once the song is over, it will be their verbal cue to stop brushing and rinse their mouth out with water. Be creative with your children and you will have them brushing their teeth on their own in no time!


Flossing in a child can be difficult. It is hard enough to get them to brush their teeth every day, let along floss their teeth. In addition, flossing can be difficult for a child to hold the string and get the right angle. In the beginning, flossing is not too big of a deal. Make sure you get your child into the habit of brushing daily to incorporate it into their routine, then you can add in flossing at a later time.

Because more space will be needed for adult teeth to come in, your child’s baby teeth probably won’t touch at first. Once the spaces between them disappear, though, you should floss once daily between any two teeth that touch.

Flossing becomes necessary when all the primary teeth have developed and are touching. Flossing removes the leftover food particles and plaque that has built up in between teeth. Left untreated, these teeth can become cavity-ridden, which will cause your child pain and a trip to the dentist to fill those cavities. The best way to prevent this is to have your child start flossing at an early age to get them into the habit of flossing once their primary teeth have developed. You may be helping them floss for quite some time which is okay. By the time their permanent teeth come in, they will be in the habit of both brushing and flossing, and they will feel pride and dedication for the hard work of their bright and beautiful smile.


As a general rule, children are typically ready to brush their own teeth when they can tie their own shoes, a skill they acquire around age 6. Even then, your child might need to be supervised for a couple more years. It’s fine to let them practice before that, but be sure to follow up with a more thorough cleaning. Children can usually floss for themselves after age 9.

The reason it takes children so long to perform these tasks on their own is that they have to develop fine motor skills. Children learn gross motor skills before they develop fine motor skills. They usually develop and fine tune these skills in kindergarten or first grade.

Children love to be independent and want to do tasks for themselves. It is important you give them this freedom as it will make them feel confident and independent. After they have completed their version of brushing and flossing, it is imperative you brush for them and help them with flossing as they usually miss their back teeth completely.

Permanent Teeth

Around the same time children learn to brush their own teeth, they begin losing their first set. For most children, this happens when they are 6 or 7, but again, every child is different. The first permanent teeth to appear are usually either the two lower front teeth or the 6-year molars. By your child’s thirteenth birthday, almost all permanent teeth should be present, with the exception of wisdom teeth. These will come, if they come at all, during the range of 17-21 years old.

When it comes to paying for dental care for you and your little ones, Carefree Dental provides a better alternative. Simply sign up for Carefree Dental and find a dentist in your area.

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