When you were a little kid, did you ever think that brushing your teeth didn't seem that important? Then, after a couple of cavities and some lectures from your parents and the dentist, you finally took it seriously? Yep, me too. But now it's your turn as the parent to teach your little one why taking care of their teeth is important. Sharing your knowledge of how to do it in a fun and positive way can greatly influence the way your child cares for their teeth, and can help them have good oral health throughout their childhood and into adulthood. So dive in as we share how to care for your kiddo's teeth, starting with their first tooth and beyond!
Before Teeth Arrive
You may think that you don't need to start an oral care routine for you infant until they get their first tooth, but pediatric dentists actually recommend that you start even before they have teeth. You should wipe your baby's gums with a warm, damp washcloth after each feeding. Doing this every day will help create a natural routine for them so when they finally get their first tooth, brushing their teeth with an actual brush will feel normal.
Here are some other tips to help you introduce good oral health care early:
Have your child watch you brush your teeth: This will help them learn that brushing teeth is normal, and that mom, dad, and their siblings are doing it too. Brushing your teeth at the same time as them can help them have a positive experience.
Introduce an infant toothbrush: You can get your baby used to a toothbrush by letting them hold and play with a safe infant toothbrush. (Just make sure you always supervise them.) These are usually made of soft silicone, with chunky bristles, and are easy for babies to grasp. They can help your baby get used to the idea of using a toothbrush for cleaning their teeth.
Their First Tooth and Beyond
Your baby can get their first tooth as early as 3 months! Isn't that crazy? But most babies start having teeth come in between 6 and 10 months. Each baby can be different when it comes to which teeth arrive when, but below is a chart with the most common timelines.
It's best when you notice your baby starts teething to have an infant toothbrush in stock, so when the time comes you and your baby will be ready. Tooth decay can start early--even on their first tooth--so it is just as important to take care of those little teeth as it is their permanent teeth.
How to Brush Your Baby's Teeth
- Use the correct kind of toothbrush: Infant toothbrushes will have a softer (sometimes silicone) bristles for those new sensitive gum line, while toothbrushes for older kids will have bristles that are firmer (but still soft) nylon, soft grips (so a toddler can easily hold it), and a small/medium size head.
- Use a small amount of toothpaste: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists recommends using a teeny tiny amount (size of one grain of rice) of ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste on your baby's toothbrush. You should brush their teeth (or tooth) twice a day. The amount of toothpaste will increase in small increments as your child gets older, but not by much. By around 3-6 years old, the amount should be about pea-sized.
- Be gentle: Gently brush their teeth inside and outside of each tooth, making sure you've hit every spot on their tooth, including along the gumline. Go in circular motion and at a 45-degree angle; and with the same gentle care, also take your time--no need to speed brush!
If your child is also struggling and doesn't want their teeth brushed, here are some helpful tips:
- Make it fun--sing a song while you brush their teeth.
- Have them face the mirror so they can see what you're doing. If that's not keeping them interested, let them play with their favorite toy as you're cleaning their teeth.
- If your baby is really wiggly, lay them on a bed, changing table, or your lap to help minimize their movement and make it easier for you to reach their mouth. If their hands are still in the way, you can even swaddle them in a towel or blanket.
- When your kids get older, let them pick out their own toothbrush with their favorite character on it.
- You can also allow them to grab their toothbrush when it's time and give them a chance to be independent. kids love this!
Other Care Tips
- Don't let your child go to bed without brushing if they just ate or drank--even breastmilk or formula. Even putting a baby down with a bottle of formula or milk can eat away at their enamel thanks to the sugars in the liquid.
- Brush their teeth twice a day: in the morning after eating breakfast and at night right before bed.
- Don't forget the tongue: the tongue also plays a very important part in dental hygiene. The tongue can build up a lot of bacteria and create bad breath!
- Find a toothbrush that has a timer on it. This will help teach them to brush their teeth for the appropriate amount of time.
- Continue to supervise. It is recommended that parents help brush your child's teeth until the age of 6. It can be fun for older toddlers and preschoolers to brush their teeth on their own, and they may want to assert their independence, but you still need to supervise them and double check their work to make sure all those teeth are nice and shiny clean.
- If your older kids' teeth start to touch one another, it's time to introduce them to flossing. You can make flossing with them fun as well.
- It's recommended to take them to the dentist at their first birthday and go in every 6 months (but no one will judge you if you go in once a year the first couple of years). Definitely go twice a year as they get older, though.
- Limit sugary foods like gummy candy, fruit snack, juice, and soda. These are some of the top things to avoid to prevent cavities and tooth decay.
Your role is to show how important oral hygiene is, but don't feel overwhelmed with all the tips and things to know when it comes to taking care of your kid's teeth! Start introducing them to the world of dental hygiene from a young age, and as they grow it will become a habit for them. Oral health is very important and, trust me, you and your child will be happy they avoided cavities, tooth decay, and long-term problems with their teeth in the long run.
So make it fun, mom and dad! Happy Brushing!