Baby Teeth: How to Care For Those Tiny Chompers
Good dental hygiene starts early — even before the first pearly whites begin to emerge
Just because a baby’s teeth are destined to fall out, it’s no reason to not take care of them. In fact, regular oral health care should start even before the first little ivories break through.
This can happen as early as 3 months or as late as 12 months. For the majority of kids, though, teeth begin to emerge sometime between 4 and 7 months. “Typically babies get their first tooth around six months, usually beginning with the lower front ones,” says Jade Miller, DDS, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD).
As soon as you see the first tooth break through, make an appointment to see a pediatric dentist. Even if she’s still sporting a gummy grin at age 1, see a dentist.
“The phrase ‘First visit by first birthday’ sums it up well,” says Miller. “You should take your child to the dentist when the first tooth comes in, or by the time she turns one, whichever happens first.”
According to the National Children’s Oral Health Foundation, 89 percent of babies under age 1 have been to a pediatrician or family physician, but only 1.5 percent has been seen by a dentist. Yet research shows beginning regular visits to the dentist at an early age reduces the rate of dental disease, says Alice Lee, DDS, associate program director in the division of pediatric dentistry at Montefiore Health System in the Bronx, New York.
When she’s not in the dentist’s chair, these tips can help keep your baby’s teeth strong and clean.
Wipe down her gums. Do this two or three times a day to remove bacteria left behind by breast milk, formula or food. This way when teeth are ready to pop out they'll break through to a clean surface to. Use a clean, damp baby washcloth wrapped around your finger, a fresh piece of gauze, an infant finger toothbrush or a wipe made specifically for cleaning baby gums to gently rub the surface of your infant’s gums, Lee advises.
Add a brush. Once the first little white nubs begin to crown, keep up with the wiping, but also start to make the transition to a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste. “The latest AAPD guidelines suggest using a tiny smear of fluoridated toothpaste,” notes Lee. If you don’t feel comfortable allowing your child to swallow a bit of fluoride (after all, babies can’t rinse and spit), she recommends fluoride-free infant tooth gel with xylitol. Brush your baby’s teeth twice a day, morning and night.
Ban the bedtime bottle. If you allow your baby to fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice in her mouth, you’re setting her on a one-way course to dental disease. “The liquid can pool around teeth and cause decay,” says Lee. “If your baby has to have something in her mouth to settle down at night, make it a pacifier,” adds Kenyon Glor, DDS, a dentist in Wellington, Ohio.
Don’t let your baby fall asleep at the breast. “Breast milk isn’t cariogenic, meaning it doesn’t cause cavities, so if your baby nurses exclusively her risk of dental decay is low. Once she begins eating solid foods, though, that risk goes up,” explains Lee. If your baby nods off while breastfeeding, it’s worth it to gently wake her to wipe her gums or brush her teeth before you put her down for a nap or for the night.