At what age can kids start brushing their own teeth? - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

At what age can kids start brushing their own teeth?

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By Nancy Dougherty

It's understandable you'd want little ones to handle this chore on their own. And by age 6 or 7, most children can. That's typically when kids both understand the purpose of brushing and when they've acquired the dexterity necessary to brush effectively.

If you feel comfortable with the idea, they can start brushing their own teeth a few years before that, but be sure you supervise and help them get the hard-to-reach areas in the back. (Young children tend not to clean all their tooth surfaces well, don't spend enough time brushing and often don't remember that a tiny pea-size dollop of toothpaste is all they need.)

Before putting your kids in charge, however, ask their dentist or hygienist to show them the proper brushing technique. Also place a timer near the sink. Children usually spend less than a minute brushing, but it takes two to three to thoroughly clean the mouth. A timer gives kids something to look at, encouraging them to spend more time on their teeth and gums.

Nancy Dougherty, D.M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical associate professor and director of the postgraduate program in pediatric dentistry at New York University College of Dentistry. She is also an attending pediatric dentist at Bellevue Medical Center in New York City.

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