No matter who you are or where you’re from, babies are adorable. Arguably, more so than puppies. And these tiny humans are especially so when they sport their first tooth, while smiling ear to ear without a care in the world.
But, as a parent, you aren’t so fortunate, as you’re bombarded with “cares” in this world. Most having to do with your little mini me.
And some of those cares are dedicated to your baby’s oral hygiene. If you’ve stumbled upon this article, you most likely have a baby showing their first tooth or showing the not-so-fun signs that its’ about to make its’ grand entrance… does drooling sound familiar?
So, let’s get to the juicy details you came here for … When should you start brushing your baby’s teeth?
You’ve got the best teething toys at your disposal and have armed yourself with the knowledge of 29 tips to soothe a teething baby, but how much do you know about actually cleaning those pearly whites when they come through?
At What Age Should I Begin?
This question can be divided into three mini questions:
- When should baby oral hygiene start?
- When should you start brushing baby’s teeth with a toothbrush?
- When can you introduce toothpaste?
Each of these mini questions has their own set of answers. Luckily for you, your baby’s pearly whites will be shining like little diamonds before you know it.
When Should Baby Oral Hygiene Start?
You should start caring for your baby’s oral hygiene before they get their first ever tooth.
Once you see and experience the tell-tale signs of “teething” (even before seeing the first tooth showing through the gums) you can jump start your baby’s oral hygiene by cleaning their gums.
In other words, you don’t need a toothbrush or toothpaste – yet …
Cleaning baby’s gums helps keep bacteria at bay and the golden rule of baby gum cleaning is “after feedings and before bed”. Since you shouldn’t use a toothbrush just yet, use something soft like a cotton ball or clean cloth.
Here’re the super simple steps to cleaning baby’s gums:
- Dampen a cotton ball or clean cloth with warm water.
- Gently rub your baby’s gums – top and bottom.
- Repeat at least two times a day.
If you’re a parent that got the baby gum cleaning memo a bit tardy, don’t panic.
Typically, the consequence of not cleaning the gums is either nothing happens, or that a little plaque could build up on your baby’s first few teeth when they push through.
Although not ideal, taking oral hygiene seriously once the first tooth shines through the gums gives baby a chance to catch up. As they say, better late than never.
More than anything, cleaning your baby’s gums helps them:
- Get used to the feeling so they don’t put up stiff resistance when they grow up.
- Transition to accepting “brushing their teeth” as something healthy and fun. (When the time comes for you to brush their teeth, trust me, you’ll wish you got this part right when you had the chance to).
It’s a ritual that gives a baby susceptibility to enjoying “brushing their teeth” as a toddler rather than fighting the entire process or being uncomfortable with it.
Either way, pat yourself on the back, supermom (or super dad)! You deserve it.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I recommend a few techniques beginning at the 2 week old well visit.
Often, infants have an accumulation of “old” milk coating the tongue. To reduce this, I recommend that parents wipe down the tongue each night with a moist washcloth.
Occasionally, parents think this “white coating” is a sign of a fungal infection or oral thrush. In the case of thrush, the coating will remain on the tongue after wiping, and the baby should see a doctor for treatment.
By the 4 month old well visit, I recommend that parents wipe down the gums with a moist washcloth after the last breastmilk or formula feeding at bedtime. This helps the baby get used the concept of cleaning the mouth and may also massage sore, teething gums.”
The Myth That Baby Teeth Don’t Really Matter
Lots of parents don’t take baby oral hygiene seriously since baby teeth are temporary, fall out around 6-7 years old and are replaced with the adult set of teeth.
This myth needs to be busted, pronto!
Baby teeth matter just as much as adult teeth do – in fact they set the stage for your baby’s oral health through late childhood, teens and adulthood.
It’s a very simple equation: Healthy baby teeth = healthy adult teeth … and vice versa.
Also, taking care of baby’s first set of teeth can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Do I have your attention now?
Your baby’s first set of teeth predetermine the spacing and health of their adult teeth, down to their bite and the development of their jaw. If baby teeth are neglected enough, the deterioration spreads to the bones masked by the gums.
The result? It makes it harder for these bones to correctly support adult teeth, leading to an array of oral consequences – all of which cost a pretty penny.
Let me put it this way, a dental consultation alone in the US ranges from just under $100 to $200. Prevent high-cost dental procedures while you can, so you don’t regret not doing anything about it when it’s too late.
Keep in mind that it’s not so long now before you wean them off of breast milk and they make the transition to eating solids, and if they don’t have a healthy set of teeth moving into this phase, they’ll have a terrible – and painful – time chewing anything on their plate.
When Should I Start Brushing My Baby’s Teeth?
You should begin brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as you snap pictures of that first tooth and share it with family and friends. Which, admit it, is immediately as soon as you see that pearly white surfacing.
That’s when you can start brushing their tooth (and eventually teeth), with a toothbrush and toothpaste.
This happens anywhere between 6 and 18 months, depending on the baby. Different babies develop at different rates, some faster than others and some requiring a bit more time, but the majority will get their first tooth around their ½ birthday.
Once you catch sight of that first pearly white, make “brushing teeth” a habit. After all, baby won’t have one tooth for very long.
Their teeth usually grow in pairs, the bottom front teeth usually emerge first, followed by the two top teeth.
Take Note: The Rules Of Toothpaste Have Been Re-Written
In the past, toothpaste wasn’t recommended until baby reached the imminent terrible two’s milestone.
But, the rules of the toothpaste game have been rewritten.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) now gives the green light to use fluoride toothpaste once baby has teeth. (Here is the actual AAP link that the Children’s Dental Project used as a reference).
For your information, go light on the toothpaste until your baby turns into a toddler and blows out their 3rd birthday candle.
Just how light?
A sliver as tiny as one grain of rice. Once your baby (toddler that only knows the word “Why?”) is three years old, that sliver can turn into a small glob no bigger than a pea.
The Fluoride Debate, Is It Bad For Baby?
There’s a reason that the “toothpaste rules” were changes by the AADP: widespread cavities.
Toddlers in preschools throughout the US were suffering from cavities so severe that they at times needed to be put under general anesthesia to remedy them.
The AADP changed their recommendation per date collected by the CDC, to introduce fluoride-toothpaste at an earlier age to prevent the toddler cavity epidemic in the future.
The only recommendation that the AADP made to prevent any negative fluoride ingestion is that baby/toddler spits out as much of the toothpaste as they can after brushing.
Still, natural parents are wary of the word “fluoride”, especially in baby products.
For parents and caregivers that opt for more natural options and aren’t comfortable with a fluoride-containing toothpaste (at least in the beginning or at all), there’s good news: natural baby toothpaste does exist.
These toothpastes are made of natural ingredients, knocking fluoride out of the park. Meaning, baby won’t swallow any amount of fluoride while learning to “spit out” the toothpaste.
It’s worth mentioning, though, that even with the new “toothpaste rules” it’s harder to find a fluoride-containing baby/toddler toothpaste than it is a natural one.
The law of supply and demand really does speak for itself, after all ..
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “Although the current recommendation is to use fluoride toothpaste before an infant or toddler can spit it out, I recommend that parents consult with their doctor or pediatric dentist first.
In some states (New Jersey and Oregon) there is no fluoride in municipal water.
Therefore, pediatricians or dentists prescribe a fluoride supplement beginning at age 6
months old. It is prescribed at an age appropriate dose until around 12 years old when all of the secondary teeth have erupted.
In these situations, to prevent excessive fluoride ingestion (supplement plus toothpaste), the local recommendations are to withhold fluoride toothpaste until the child can spit out consistently.
Here is the current status of fluoridation in NJ and OR:
Also, on the subject of fluoride, I sometimes have parents who are extremely concerned about fluorosis and “other toxic side effects” that they have read on the internet.
Some of these parents refuse my prescription fluoride supplements despite my efforts to educate them on the benefits of fluoride for their child’s teeth.
So, Which Toothbrush Should I Use?
Enough about toothpaste, what about the sword of teeth brushing? The toothbrush!
Well, just like everything, not all toothbrushes are created equal.
Some of the brushes on the market are designed so that baby can try by themselves, right when that first tooth is budding. Others are designed for parents to brush baby’s teeth themselves.
It’s a good idea to buy one of each when you begin the “brushing your teeth” ritual.
That way, baby can have a sense of independence, while you make sure the job gets done right – every time.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: ” I usually recommend an over-the-finger toothbrush when an infant only has front teeth.
By the time a toddler has molars, I recommend a brush with a handle, usually between 15-20 months old. It’s more difficult to reach the molars with a finger toothbrush.
After the age of 2, if parents express that they are having difficulty with getting their toddler to cooperate with brushing, I often recommend a battery-operated or motorized brush.
There are fun, character themed ones on the market, including ones with 2 minute timers. This is sometimes tolerated better and can help the job done faster for a very active toddler.”
How Should I Brush My Baby’s Teeth?
It isn’t exactly rocket science, but some approaches work way better than others – so if you’re not getting positive results with what you’re already trying or just want to learn what you need to do when the time comes, read along.
Step 1: Have your child sit in your lap facing away from you, hold their body against yours and tilt their head up so that you can clearly look into their mouth and see all their teeth.
This way, you can make sure you’re brushing all their teeth and aren’t missing any spot. You can sit on the floor, on a closed toilet lid, put a chair in there that fits, or just sit on the side of the bathtub.
Step 2: Proceed gently, or else all hell will break loose (just kidding, but it’ll definitely go downhill the moment you try to rush it).
Step 3: Slowly and gently move the toothbrush inside your baby’s mouth in a circular motion, making sure you target the inside and outside of each tooth as you go. Repeat for each tooth multiple times, back and forth.
Step 4: When done brushing your baby’s teeth, make sure you also brush their tongue before calling it a day.
The tongue can be home to loads of harmful bacteria, ones often responsible for bad breath in babies, so you’ll want to do your best to make sure that’s not the case with your little one.
How Do I Make My Toddler Love Brushing Their Teeth?
Make it fun – because mini humans love fun (who doesn’t?).
Just because you understand how important it is for your toddler to brush their teeth doesn’t mean that they’re going to agree with you on that. Some babies oppose the sensation and don’t enjoy the change at all.
Here’re a few tips that will get them looking forward to brushing their teeth in the morning, before bed and anywhere in between, rather than having to go to battle with them every single time for the recommended 4-minutes that the routine should last for.
Even though it might sound counter effective for us to say this, don’t battle with them over brushing their teeth. In the end, only you will lose. And, it may result in your little one developing a phobia of anything “teeth” related – including the dentist.
(Note: If you’d like to learn more about this, here is an AAP link that supports some of our suggestions).
Babies, especially once they begin learning how to walk, are like copycats.
If your baby is resisting having their teeth brushed, make them know it’s okay. Brush your own teeth in the mirror and smile while they’re by your side watching you.
Then, brush your significant other’s teeth (if available) and let them show they’re enjoying it as well.
Let your baby know that you do it willingly and have fun with it, and see for yourself how they’ll be more open to the experience.
Change The Scenery
If your baby is putting up quite the fight, change up the scenery – i.e, try doing it in a different context.
Maybe add the ritual to their bath (especially if they are a baby that enjoys bath time). If not, then try it in the kitchen or living room, maybe even in the car or outside.
You know your baby best. Try to connect the “brushing your teeth” ritual to their favorite scenery.
A Toothbrush They Like
Ever thought about using a toothbrush your baby actually has an affection for? Instead of using a plain toothbrush, why not use one designed after their favorite character, or one that has bright colors they like?
Make It A Party
Because, who doesn’t enjoy an upbeat party? Turn on their favorite tunes (does “Let it Go” from Frozen ring any bells?) and make them as comfortable as possible.
Sing To Them
If you don’t want to put some music on, try singing to them yourself instead. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think you have a nice voice or you don’t know all the lyrics to the song, just as long as you can keep a tune and make them smile, that’s usually all it takes!
Keep An Eye Out For Discomfort
Taking it easy with your child in cases like this is crucial. Keep an eye out for signs that show they’re not ready, are uncomfortable or are in pain, and don’t keep going just for the sake of consistency if it’s obvious that you should stop.
Use A Mirror
Want to add a little bit of entertainment into the mix? It might not be entertaining to adults like you and I, but putting up a mirror for your child to watch themselves brush their teeth can work like a charm.
It’s always these little things we don’t think about, right?
Use A Timer
If your kid’s old enough to understand the concept of time, try setting a timer or using your phone’s stopwatch and challenge your little one to a brushing race to see who can finish faster.
Of course, you’re not really challenging them and being competitive about this, but keep that between you and I … as long as they feel it’s a true race and they want to beat you, that’s all that matters.
What ever happened to good old rewarding systems for good behavior?
It doesn’t have to be anything too complicated or rewards that would spoil them if that’s what you’re worried about – it could be something as simple as a reward chart and stickers that encourage them to keep being good little boys or girls.
Use A Stepstool
In most cases, sinks are way too high for small children to comfortably reach on their own. So, it might be a good idea for you to get a baby safe step stool for help.
Wrapping It Up – A Baby’s Gorgeous Smile Is Priceless
The habits that you help your baby develop in their earliest life stages will affect them for a lifetime.
And when your baby enters adulthood, they’ll be more prone to smile if they have healthy teeth.
That’s good news, because when a person smiles, they have higher self-esteem and healthier relationships overall.
What better gift is there to give?