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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Brush Those Teeth!

It’s a familiar scene in bathrooms, twice a day.

Parent (liltingly, with a smile): “Time to brush teeth!”

Child (with feeling): “NO!”

So your preschooler doesn’t always brush every day. And when they do brush, it’s sort of haphazard at best. They’re more interested in the “sparkle-flavored” toothpaste than sparkly teeth. No big deal, right? They’re just baby teeth, anyway.


“Some people think baby teeth are going to fall out so they aren’t important to take good care of, but that’s not true,” says Darin Schettler, DDS, a family practice dentist in Santa Rosa. “Mouth health is important for lots of reasons, including eating, speech, and even self-esteem. Kids with unhealthy teeth don’t smile and that can impair them socially.”

The overall health of the mouth is also important for developing adult teeth, long before those teeth begin to make their appearance. 

“It’s not technique so much as frequency of brushing that helps prevent ECC, or Early Childhood Caries,” says Sebastopol pediatric dentist Rob Oliver, DDS. (We might know ECCs best as cavities, a word that still sends chills down many adults’ spines.)

Oliver says there is no set age when children can effectively brush their teeth, and that parents should supervise and assist as needed.

“Some of my seven-year-old patients can do a fine job, and other ten-year-olds still need help brushing and flossing effectively.”

When teaching your child to brush, Oliver recommends using a soft toothbrush. Brush, he says, with soft, circular motions, making sure the toothbrush’s bristles are gently angled towards the gums. “It’s more about the frequency of getting the material off the teeth than anything.” 

The American Dental Association recommends that parents use only a pea-size amount of toothpaste on their child’s toothbrush, as larger amounts tend to create excessive foam making it more difficult for a child to brush. Make sure that children get in the habit of spitting out the toothpaste, too, since consistently swallowing toothpaste can cause kids to ingest too much fluoride.

And don’t forget to practice what you preach. Modeling good brushing habits is the first step to teaching your child good dental health. 

Both dentists recommend an early dental visit to promote a positive experience at the dentist. Oliver suggests by their first birthday, and Schettler often sees children by their second birthday.

“We want their experience to be positive, so if we only clean one tooth the first time, that’s okay. We’ll go back another day and get a few more. And then a few more. The important thing is to get them in here,” says Schettler.

According to California law, children must receive an oral health assessment by May 31 of their first school year. A form is required to prove compliance with the law. Parents who cannot get a dental health checkup for their children can use the form to apply for exemption from the requirement. For more information, see or