DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is the oral care specialist and dental consultant to the Brilliant and Baby Buddy oral care lines through Compac Industries. See terms below
There is no shortage of toothbrushes to choose from and the most important factors to consider when making a purchase are the ones that are specific to your child. In addition, toothbrushing or more specifically, oral care, needs to start before any teeth actually show up in your little one’s mouth. Early oral care is the key to any successful homecare program, no matter what kind of brush you choose.
Infants/Babies 0-12 months
This is the optimal time to start oral care, before the teeth erupt, preferably within the first month of life, and you don’t even need a toothbrush! Use a sterile cloth, pre packaged mouth tissue, or oral wipe to cleanse your infants mouth at least once a day, especially after nursing or bottle feeding.
Once this routine is established…
- Around 3 months of age, begin using silicone brushes to clean the gums and oral tissues. Brilliant has an excellent option that is the best finger toothbrush for toddlers and babies alike, use as early as 3 months and continue use until graduating to a bristle toothbrush.
- Around 4-6 months, when active teething begins, use a combination teether/toothbrush.
By the time active teething happens, if you have started oral care early, your baby will be accustomed to oral care hygiene. The first tooth typically erupts for most children before the first birthday and as soon as it does you need to use a baby bristled toothbrush. Baby brushes should have small brush heads with soft bristles. The handle should be something YOU are comfortable holding.
Your child should not brush their own teeth independently until age 5. You can begin brush training around age 4, until then, you are doing all the oral care for them.
Toddlers/Preschool 1-5 years
Most children have all of their baby teeth by 2 years of age. This means full mouth brushing with a toddler toothbrush should happen when the molar teeth start to come in. The bristles should be longer and a bit firmer than the previously used baby toothbrush.
Molar teeth have more surface area that needs to be cleaned, including pits and grooves in chewing tops that require more attention while brushing. As children gain grip strength and dexterity in their hands, they can be trained to brush independently, usually age 4- 5 years old is appropriate.
Once they are actively brush training, choose a toothbrush with a handle they can easily hold and manipulate while practicing proper technique and mimicking your brushing directions.
Grade School/5+ years
Around the time most kids can brush effectively on their own, age 6- 8 years, is when the baby teeth start to shed and adult teeth begin to come in. This is called mixed dentition, when small baby teeth and larger adult teeth are in the mouth at the same time.
This creates brushing challenges due to sensitive gums, spacing and crowding. This is a great age range to introduce an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes with 15,000+ brush strokes per minute will clean more surfaces, reaching farther and more effectively than manual toothbrushes alone. Chargeable electric toothbrushes are going to work better than battery powered toothbrushes, however, they are also more expensive.
Features to Consider when buying a Toothbrush
The bristles are important because they are what actually clean the teeth, not the toothpaste. The bristles should be soft or extra soft. Most all children’s toothbrushes have soft bristles nowadays but not all have rounded bristle tips. When the bristle tips are rounded during manufacturing they are more gentle and effective in the mouth. Nylon bristles are the best choice for children. They have been tested to show efficacy in:
- Interdental Cleaning
- Plaque Removal
- Gum Comfort
- Gingival Cleaning
- Anti-microbial within the filaments
Size refers to the brush head and the handle. The brush head should fit the child’s mouth well, reaching all tooth surfaces easily, not too big nor too small. Most manufacturers use an age range recommendation that they will list on the package to help parents make this decision.
Manual or Power
There are many different types of toothbrushes to choose from. It’s usually best to start out with a manual toothbrush so a child gets fully trained on proper technique in brushing first. Then, as they progress with performing their own oral care, it can be fun and rewarding to introduce a powered or electric toothbrush.
In manual toothbrushing
- The mode of cleaning is the physical action of the bristles as they are moved across the teeth and around the mouth, usually reaching 100-200 brush strokes per minute, for a child.
In electric or powered toothbrushing
- You increase brush strokes per minute, ranging anywhere from 10,000 brush strokes per minute, in a small battery powered brush, to a whopping 35,000 brush strokes per minute in an electric rechargeable brush.
Additionally, powered electric models can also provide non contact cleaning. Non contact cleaning is where the bristles create bubbles and sonic waves within the fluids of the mouth that travel and clean beyond the bristles reaching multiple surfaces.
Sonic Technology Explained
Sonic technology toothbrushing works by activating the sonic motor on the toothbrush and driving the bristles of the toothbrush around the mouth reaching each tooth. The frequency produced in a sonic toothbrush motor is similar to the way a person would manually brush their teeth up and down, back and forth, or around in a circle but with many more brush strokes per minute. The tips of the bristles will pulse, move and vibrate as they glide across a tooth surface, effectively removing more plaque and bacteria than could be done using a manual toothbrush alone.
Another phenomenon that happens when using electric toothbrushes is a benefit called fluid dynamics. As the bristles stimulate the fluids in the mouth through physical contact, they create waves and bubbles that go beyond the bristles helping to remove more plaque and kill bacteria.
Pros of Sonic technology
- Wide range of frequency options
- Battery powered options, great for introducing younger kids to electric tooth brushing
- Rechargeable base unit options, great for older kids
- Most oral care companies offer a sonic toothbrush design
- Same rectangular shape as a regular toothbrush
- Hi frequency motors create the most fluid dynamics
- Lower frequency motors create the least fluid dynamics but are easier for kids to use initially
Cons of Sonic technology
- High frequency motors are more difficult to get used to and some people cannot tolerate the “tickle effect” that’s created
- Stimulates a higher occurrence of gag reflex in some individuals
- Requires additional equipment. Cords, stands, bases.
- Handles are wider, and longer
- One size fits all brush heads
Go by the age range recommended on the package
Find the age range advertised on the toothbrush package and use that as a guide for your child. Those specific age ranges fall in line with designs that are meant to best support size averages for kids. This includes the size of their mouth, the size of their teeth, the size of their hands, and their ability to grasp and hold a toothbrush when it comes time for brush training. Of course, all kids vary in size and stature but I find that for the most part, the age ranges fit well with the toothbrush design.
Soft bristled toothbrushes
- Everyone should use a soft bristled toothbrush, especially kids. Medium and Hard bristled brushes are too stiff and can actually brush away tooth enamel and gum tissue.
Don’t buy the cheapest toothbrush
- I know it’s unavoidable sometimes, but in general, if it’s the cheapest, it’s that way for a reason. Cheaply manufactured toothbrushes usually have sharp blunt cut bristle ends. This is important to know, especially for small and tender little mouths. These types of bristles are rougher on tooth enamel, scratchy against tender gum tissues and have very little bend and flex recovery.
- A toothbrush with bristle ends that have had the extra step of being polished to a round end are the most comfortable.
- Start Oral Care Early
- Use silicone teethers and brushes to massage baby’s mouth
- Start using a bristle toothbrush once teeth begin to erupt
- Choose soft bristles with rounded tips
- Choose the right size brush head for your child’s mouth
- Look for age recommendations on packaging
- Once manual toothbrushing has been learned, consider upgrading to an electric toothbrush
- Perform all the oral care for your child up to age 5, and then directly supervise thereafter
- Change toothbrush every 3 months
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Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.