When can my child
brush their own teeth?

Parenting style plays a relatively big role when it comes to the decision to allow your child to brush their own teeth and floss on their own. Do I want to push their independence and “reap the fruits of their choices” more? Or is my parenting style more the paternal “I will do what’s best for my child until they are older,” as the priority?

For me, I see far too many kids whose parents report to us that the child brushes daily (and don’t have other major risk factors). But yet we are still dealing with cavities while they are in my dental chair.  There are a couple of factors at play.

Can your child brush their teeth on their own? Questions to ask:

  1. Does my child have the manual dexterity to be able to remove the sticky build up, called plaque, off all surfaces of their teeth on their own? 
  2. Can my child have the maturity and presence of mind to stay there, in front of the mirror, and brush all areas and teeth. Including the ones he can't see or the ones that are harder to get to (think the same size as his dominant hand)? 
  3. Will my child actually do it or is he going to make the wrong choice and walk into the bathroom, wet his toothbrush and walk out saying he’s done?

What age can a child brush their own teeth?

Most kids need to be at least 6 years old to have developed the manual dexterity to finesse the toothbrush in a way that they can brush their teeth correctly. When brushing they need to actually remove plaque and clean their mouth. Of course, age isn’t always a true indicator, a question many pediatric dentists will ask is,  “can your child tie his own shoelace?” That acts as a litmus test for where your child stands in that department. 

How do you assess a child's ability to have the patience to stay on task and brush his teeth for a whole 2 minutes? 

You can evaluate them. But this means you allow them to brush (and floss) their teeth and actually time their activity without making it apparent. And then go back in and see if they got all the tricky areas to brush. Is there all kinds of plaque left behind? Despite them having ‘brushed and flossed already.” Trust me, when you’re actually timing it, two minutes seems like an eternity.

Lastly, it's no news to you that kids test and probe their parents all day, assessing how much they can get away with. Some kids are more difficult, while others may have a temperament that is less interested in pushing the limits. But all children do test, and push their luck here and there with the night time flossing and brushing teeth, it’s a tale as old as time. I hear so many stories of kids even going out of their way to come up with schemes to rebel against their parents’ order (or pleadings) of brushing and flossing before bedtime. Generally, boys tend to drag behind in the maturity department as compared to girls. So, you tell me, is your child ready to be armed with the responsibility of flossing and brushing teeth on their own?

For my children, I stay as involved as I can with hands-on, as well as verbal coaching of my kids, as part of their night time routine. I plan to do this as long as they will let me; and they know I’m only half joking when I tell them, “I’ll be brushing your teeth until you’re eighteen, you know.”

To summarize, likely around the age of 6, a child will be able to brush their teeth on their own, but with supervision. Using the tips above will help you to determine if your child is ready.  Although, they may still need help with flossing or getting those tricky areas to brush that are hard to reach. You can also consider getting your child an electric toothbrush for kids

During your child’s regular dental visit you can ask your pediatric dentist, how your child is doing with his brushing teeth and ask for tips and suggestions.

If you have any more questions regarding your child’s oral health or would like to schedule an appointment call us: (858)693-5677.  You can also set up a Virtual Consultation with Dr. J

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J. Shahangian


Dr. J is a board certified pediatric dentist and owner of Scripps Pediatric Dentistry & Brush n Brace, pediatric dental offices located in San Diego, CA. He is not only a Diplomat with the board but now also has Fellow status with the AAPD. He is a proud father of 3 beautiful girls, a San Diego native, loves soccer and is passionate about pediatric oral health. His mission is battling the number 1 disease that he has seen take over our beloved children. #AskDrJ provides answers and solutions to parents questions & concerns regarding their children's oral health. Click here for a full list of articles from #AskDrJ 

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