Three Steps to a Healthy Mouth

Provided by: The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Like everyone else, your child can have a healthy mouth if these three steps are followed:

  1. Brush every day
  2. Floss every day
  3. Visit a dentist regularly

Step 1. Brush Every Day

Angle the brush at the gum line and brush gently. If your child is unable to brush his or her own teeth, these suggestions might be helpful:

First, wash your hands and put on disposable gloves. Sit or stand where you can see all of the surfaces of the teeth.

Be sure to use a regular or power toothbrush with soft bristles.

Use a pea-size amount of toothpaste with fluoride, or none at all. Toothpaste can bother children who have swallowing problems. If this is the case, brush with water instead.

Brush the front, back, and top of each tooth. Gently brush back and forth in short strokes.

Gently brush the tongue after you brush the teeth.

Help your child rinse with plain water. If your child can’t rinse, give him or her a drink of water or consider sweeping the mouth with a finger wrapped in gauze.


Angle the brush at the gum line and brush gently

Get a new toothbrush with soft bristles every 3 months, after a contagious illness, or when the bristles are worn.

If your child can brush but needs some help, the following ideas might work for you. You may think of other creative ways to solve brushing problems based on your child’s needs and your own experience.

Make the Toothbrush easier to hold

The same kind of Velcro® strap used to hold food utensils is helpful for some people.

Others attach the brush to the hand with a wide elastic or rubber band. Make sure the band isn’t too tight.

Make the toothbrush handle bigger

You can also cut a small slit in the side of a tennis ball and slide it onto the handle of the toothbrush.

You can buy a toothbrush with a large handle, or you can slide a bicycle grip onto the handle. Attaching foam tubing, available from home health care catalogs, is also helpful.

Try other toothbrush options


A power toothbrush might make brushing easier. Take the time to help your client get used to one.

Guide the Toothbrush.

Help brush by placing your hand very gently over your child’s hand and guiding the toothbrush. If that doesn’t work, you may need to brush the teeth yourself.

Step 2. Floss Every Day

Flossing cleans between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach. Many children need a parent’s help flossing. Flossing is a tough job that takes a lot of practice. Waxed, unwaxed, flavored, or plain floss all do the same thing. Find out what your child, or whatever will make flossing easier for you both.

  • Use a string of floss 18 inches long. Wrap that piece around the middle finger of each hand.

  • Grip the floss between the thumb and index finger of each hand.
  • Start with the lower front teeth, then floss the upper front teeth. Next, work your way around to all the other teeth.

  • Work the floss gently between the teeth until it reaches the gum line. Curve the floss around each tooth and slip it under the gum. Slide the floss up and down. Do this for both sides of every tooth, one side at a time.
  • Adjust the floss a little as you move from tooth to tooth so the floss is clean for each one.

Try a floss holder

  • If you have trouble flossing, try using a floss holder instead of holding the floss with your fingers.

The dentist may prescribe a special rinse for your child. Fluoride rinses can help prevent cavities. Chlorhexidine rinses fight germs that cause gum disease. Follow the dentist’s instructions and make sure your child doesn’t swallow the rinse. Ask the dentist for creative ways to use rinses for a child with swallowing problems.

Step 3. Visit a Dentist Regularly

Your child should have regular dental appointments. Professional cleanings are just as important as brushing and flossing every day. Regular examinations can identify problems before they cause unnecessary pain.

As is the case with dental care at home, it may take time for your child to become comfortable at the dental office. A “get acquainted” visit with no treatment provided might help: your child can meet the dental team, sit in the dental chair if he or she wishes, and receive instructions on how to brush and floss. Such a visit can go a long way toward making dental appointments easier! See Strategies for Successful Doctor Visits for helpful information on making these visits better for your child and for you.