Dental care begins when first teeth appear, which is usually at about six months. You can normally expect a full set of 20 first, baby, or ‘milk’ teeth before your child is three years old. Sometimes babies are born with one or more of their teeth already in place.
How soon should I start to clean my child’s teeth?
Toothbrushes specifically designed for babies are available. If you find it hard to get a toothbrush into your baby’s mouth, you can use a clean flannel or cloth to wipe the teeth and gums clean instead. The important thing is to try and establish tooth cleaning as a regular thing after breakfast and before bedtime so that it becomes part of your child’s daily routine.
Once you’ve noticed the first of many baby teeth to come, you can graduate from washcloth to baby’s first toothbrush. Ideally, you want one that has three characteristics: a soft brush, a small head, and a large handle. This will help with maneuvering while not hurting your baby’s still sensitive mouth. You won’t need to use anything other than water until your baby is about one year old. At that time you can use a tiny bit of non-fluoridated toothpaste.
The best way to brush your baby’s teeth
- Sit your baby on your lap
- Tilt their head slightly back and get them to open wide
- Clean each area of the tooth with circular motions getting right to the gum line on the front and back
- Talk them through the entire process, as at some point they will be doing this on their own
- When done try to get them to spit (this may be difficult for them so make sure only a small amount of toothpaste was used).
Related: Simple Ways to Deeply Clean Your Teeth
When should I start taking my child to the dentist?
You might like to begin by taking your toddler along with you when you go for regular check-ups so that they can get used to the dentist (unless you are expecting any treatment). When your child reaches the age of about two, your dentist will probably begin to look in their mouth in a fairly informal way. You can help prepare your child in advance by looking at books, which talk about going to the dentist and telling them about the mirror and the ‘magic’ chair.
The first trip to the dentist should happen by the time they turn one. This is more about getting your child used to the experience and gathering information on proper dental care. After that, it will be determined when your baby will start visiting every six months. You can still be a big help between visits by checking your child’s teeth regularly for signs of tooth decay. These signs appear as brown or white spots as well as pits on the teeth. If you notice any of these in your child’s mouth you should make an appointment with a pediatric dentist immediately.
How soon can my child be left to clean their teeth unsupervised?
Most children are able to brush their own teeth around the age of seven. A good rule of thumb is that if they can write their name quite clearly, they can probably be left to clean their teeth themselves. However, it is still a good idea to check how well your child is brushing their teeth now and again. Aim to ensure they brush their teeth for two or three minutes at least twice a day.
How can fluoride help?
Fluoride is a mineral, which has been found to help protect against decay by strengthening tooth enamel. Most kinds of toothpaste now contain fluoride and it is added to the water supply in some areas. If your water is not fluoridated, ask your dentist about fluoride mouth rinses or supplements in the form of tablets or drops. Too much fluoride can lead to a condition called fluorosis in which teeth become permanently mottled in appearance.
You can limit the risk of fluorosis by:
- Using only a small, pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Encouraging your child to spit out rather than swallowing the toothpaste after cleaning.
- Rinsing the mouth after cleaning.
Related: 16 Everyday Uses for Toothpaste – That Don’t Involve Your Teeth
How to help provide your baby with some relief from teething process?
Your baby should finish the teething process and have all their baby teeth around the time they turn two years of age. The teething process is very uncomfortable for your baby causing them to fuss more and cry for days or weeks per new tooth. Other indicators that your baby is teething that you can check for are: swollen gums, drooling, and an increased temperature. To help provide your baby with some relief from this process you can:
- Rub their gums but make sure you clean your finger first and be gentle
- Give them a clean cold washcloth to chew on
- Give them a clean cold teething ring to chew on (it is recommended not to give them one with liquid inside as it may break open)
After consulting a doctor you may be able to give them an occasional baby Tylenol for relief but never aspirin as it may cause Reyes syndrome in children. This is a rare but serious condition.