How to Choose the Right Toothbrush for Your Kids

Healthy Living

September 10, 2019

Good dental health starts well before your kids have teeth. Even sans those pearly whites, babies have gums that can develop gingivitis and other problems if you’re not careful. And because kids imitate the grownups in their lives, setting a good example for how to brush your teeth – and what tools to use – can set your kids up for a lifetime of proper cleaning techniques. Not sure which toothbrushes your children should be using? Here are some guidelines for choosing the right toothbrush at any age.

General Guidelines

Your child’s toothbrush will change as they grow, but there are a few basics that always apply:

  • Bristles: No matter what size, shape or type of toothbrush you buy, dental hygienists recommend using one with soft bristles. This makes brushing more comfortable and reduces the chances of damaging gum tissue. 
  • Size: Smaller mouths need smaller toothbrushes. Be sure to choose a toothbrush that fits comfortably in your child’s mouth to achieve the best results. 
  • Grip: The handle matters too. It should be of a size that allows your child to move it around easily. Fun designs and shapes are OK as long as they don’t get in the way. If your kiddo can’t grip it, he can’t use it.
  • Hygiene: Dentists recommend replacing toothbrushes about every three months. This is especially important for children, who tend to wear through bristles faster than adults. If your child has been ill, you should replace the toothbrush when she recovers so as not to spread germs, particularly if multiple toothbrushes are stored together. 

Baby’s First Toothbrush

For a baby or toddler under the age of two, there are a couple of good choices for cleaning their teeth.

  • A damp cloth: Using a damp cloth to clean your infant’s gums is perfectly fine. Use a gentle motion with little pressure to do the job. This can feel good for babies who are teething, too, since the pressure will relieve some of the discomfort of budding molars.
  • An infant toothbrush: It’s okay to use a toothbrush even before your child has any teeth. An infant toothbrush with a head that fits comfortably in your child’s mouth can be used to gently brush the gums. In addition to cleaning, this is a good way to introduce your child to the process. Toothbrushes are labeled by age, so pick one specifically designed for infants without teeth or one with very soft bristles.

Best Toothbrush for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Once your child turns two, she’ll likely be interested in helping to brush her own teeth if you’ve introduced the idea already. It’s important to remember that a toddler doesn’t have the dexterity to brush properly. In the beginning, she’ll need help, but encouraging participation will get your toddler onboard for future oral hygiene. 

Choose a manual toothbrush over an electric one. Though you can use an electric toothbrush for toddlers, sticking with a manual model is a better idea when you’re teaching your kids good brushing techniques. Note that some kids like electric toothbrushes and might respond better to these than a manual one. Don’t ditch the manual one entirely, but use both if it helps your child learn to clean his teeth regularly. There are plenty of affordable electric toothbrushes on the market for preschoolers. 

A good toddler’s toothbrush should have a small head and a large handle for easier gripping. Soft grips on the handle will help your kiddo hold the toothbrush steady, and fun colors and designs create interest in brushing. If your child has a favorite book or TV character, consider getting a toothbrush with that character to generate interest in the activity – the same goes for a favorite animal or color.

Best Toothbrush for Ages 5 to 8

At this point, it’s important to have your children brush their teeth by themselves, though supervision is still recommended. It should become part of a healthy morning and evening routine. There will be small changes in the appearance of toothbrushes at this age. 

  • A manual toothbrush: Manual toothbrushes at this age have narrower handles to accommodate better gripping ability and a wider jaw. The head should fit comfortably in your child’s mouth and always have soft bristles. Choosing a toothbrush with a favorite super hero or color is a good way to increase your child’s interest in brushing. 
  • An electric toothbrush: At this age, you may have better luck with an electric toothbrush, which might provide better cleaning than a manual one. Your kids are less likely to be afraid of the motion once they leave the toddler years and may actually prefer the gadgetry over a manual model. Also, an electric toothbrush can be easier to use once your child gets the hang of it. If there’s any hesitation, stick with a manual.

Best Toothbrush for Preadolescent Children

After the age of 8 or so, children should be brushing their teeth independently. At this age, toothbrushes have only slightly smaller heads and larger handles than those of adult toothbrushes.

  • A manual toothbrush: They’re still kids, so there’s nothing wrong with wild colors and cartoon characters on the handle, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of effective brushing. Since they can brush independently now, let your kids pick their own toothbrushes as long as they fall within the guidelines for good oral care. They can also pick their own toothpaste flavors to make the experience their own.
  • An electric toothbrush: Recent studies suggest that electric toothbrushes make getting to hard-to-reach areas easier for kids and are slightly more effective overall than manual toothbrushes. Also, they may be considered “more fun” and help establish better brushing habits. But again, if your kids have sensory issues or just don’t like electric brushes, keep getting manual ones. 

Best Toothbrush for Teens and Beyond

Once your kids reach their teens, they should be on a par with adults when it comes to brushing their teeth. Soft bristles and good grip matter no matter how old you are. As technology has improved, electric toothbrushes appear to be slightly more effective than manual toothbrushes, though either will do the job when used properly. Just make sure that you’re replacing the head on an electric toothbrush as often as you would a manual brush. Some varieties come with detachable heads, which can be more affordable long term than replacing the entire brush.