Usually, between six to ten months of age, the teething process kicks off and by three-years-old, your little one will have a full set of baby teeth. While their primary teeth will eventually fall out, they serve a number of important purposes like helping your child chew and saving space for the permanent teeth, which is why taking good care of them is essential. Plus, making flossing and brushing baby teeth part of the routine from the start helps set the stage for lifelong oral health. To give you a better idea of how to keep your child’s pearly whites clean and healthy, the team here at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry is covering how and when to start brushing baby’s teeth.
When to start Brushing Baby’s Teeth
Your baby’s oral hygiene routine can start before they even have teeth. It’s a good idea to clean your baby’s gums after feedings. To do this, moisten a piece of clean gauze or a washcloth in water and wrap it around your index finger. Then, gently wipe off your baby’s gums with the cloth or gauze. When your tiny tot’s first tooth erupts, it’s time to start brushing twice a day. When any two teeth are touching, add flossing once daily to the mix.
How to Brush Baby Teeth
If you’re feeling perplexed about how to brush baby teeth, you’re not alone. Most of us take the fact that we know how to brush our teeth for granted without realizing there’s a bit of a learning curve. None of us were born with the ability to skillfully maneuver a toothbrush around our mouth, so you’ll play a big role in teeth brushing during your child’s baby and toddler years.
To get started, you’ll need a soft-bristled, infant-sized toothbrush. Wash your hands really well and then squeeze a tiny smear of toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) onto the toothbrush. You’ll increase this to a pea-sized amount at the age of three. Every morning and evening, gently brush the front, back and sides of each of your baby’s teeth for about two minutes. If they’re okay with it, you can also quickly brush their tongue, as it tends to harbor bacteria that cause bad breath. Since you’re only using a little bit of toothpaste, there’s no need to have your baby spit or rinse out their mouth. There will be good days and bad days when it comes to brushing. Think of it like changing a diaper; even if your baby is being fussy it still needs to get done. Change the toothbrush about every three months, whenever the bristles look worn out, or after your little one has a cold or illness.
All of that probably sounds pretty simple and it often is, at least during the early years. When your child reaches toddlerhood, brushing baby teeth can get a little more challenging. It’s recommended that parents brush their child’s teeth for them until they have the coordination to do it on their own, usually around five- or six-years-old. However, we do encourage you to let your kiddo have a turn brushing their teeth so they can learn the technique and then you can just go over any spots they miss.
Now, what happens if your toddler is really resistant? As for the actual technique for how to brush a baby’s teeth when they refuse, the knee-to-knee approach works great if two grown-ups are available. Place your child’s head in your lap while the other grown-up holds your child and, preferably, chats with them and distracts them if they’re upset. If you’re on your own, sit on the floor and again brush with their head in your lap. You can use your legs to keep flailing arms and legs at bay. You can see the techniques demonstrated here.
If you’re the brusher, use a clean index finger to pull their cheeks away from the teeth to improve your visibility (keep your finger on the outside of their teeth so you don’t accidentally get bit). Then, gently brush all surfaces of their teeth, paying close attention to the back molars. Obviously, you don’t want to have to hold your little one down all of the time, so try some of these tips as well to help them embrace brushing:
- Get an awesome tasting toothpaste in a kid-friendly flavor. Tom’s of Maine Anticavity Toothpaste in Silly Strawberry is always a fan favorite.
- Make brushing teeth fun! Turn it into a game, use sticker charts or create playlists of two-minute songs to brush to. When it’s enjoyable and positive, kids will be more likely to want to do it.
- Get into role model mode and let your child see you brush and floss your own teeth.
- Talk about why brushing baby teeth is so important and offer plenty of praise when a brushing session goes well.
- Enlist the help of your pediatric dentist if all else fails.
Other Ways to Keep Baby Teeth Healthy
Baby teeth care goes beyond brushing and flossing. To ward off tooth decay and make sure your little one’s smile is healthy, here are a few other tips to keep in mind:
- Never give your child a bottle in their crib. Finish feedings prior to bedtime or naps and then clean their gums or brush their teeth before putting them down to prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Saliva production slows during sleep and the sugars from formula, breast milk or other drinks aren’t washed away. They sit on the teeth and gums, which can cause cavities, even in infants.
- For little ones over the age of one, fruit juice is okay, but remember, it does have sugar in it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting toddlers – ages one to three – to four ounces of 100% fruit juice (no sugar added) per day. Don’t put it in a sippy cup for them to sip on leisurely because then the teeth are just constantly bathed in it. Instead, offer juice in a cup at a meal or snack only.
- A well balanced diet can go a long way when it comes to a child’s oral health. Encourage children to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, dairy and lean proteins. Enjoy sweets and starchy treats in moderation and brush after eating them.
- The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that babies have their initial dentist’s visit by their first birthday. A pediatric dentist will examine their teeth and gums to make sure they’re healthy and developing properly. They can also answer your questions and help you create an amazing homecare routine.