A Lifetime of Healthy Smiles Starts Now
As a pediatric dentist, one of the most common questions that I am asked is:
“when and how should I start brushing my child’s teeth?”
Start early! Some dentists recommend wiping the gums before teeth even start to come in to get rid of bacteria and to get babies used to having their mouths cleaned. While there’s certainly no harm in starting that early, cleaning becomes realIy important as soon as the first tooth erupts into the mouth. Once a baby first tooth starts to erupt, I recommend getting into the habit of cleaning the teeth after each feed whenever possible, but most importantly before naps and nighttime sleep. It may seem strange at first, and you may not feel like you’re doing anything, but keep at it. You are.
Most commonly, the first teeth to come into the mouth are the lower front teeth (incisors) at around 6 months (although there is a lot of variability) followed by the upper front teeth. For these teeth, wiping with a clean washcloth or using a silicon finger brush is sufficient, but getting babies used to the toothbrush early also has its benefits. I kept some washcloths and some toothbrushes in various spots in my house so that whenever I was done feeding, I could grab the closest cloth or toothbrush and quickly wipe or brush the teeth.
At around 12 months old, the first baby molars will start to come in. At that point, a washcloth or finger brush is no longer enough, and brushing baby teeth is necessary as it is the only way to get the grooves of the molars clean is with the bristles of a toothbrush.
What about toothpaste? While there are several fluoride free/training toothpastes available on the market today for brushing baby teeth, they simply don’t do much. Some parents like to use them because they are getting their kids used to using toothpaste or because the sweet taste may make their kids more compliant when having their teeth brushed. I have found, though, that because they are so sweet, babies and toddlers get used to sucking the toothpaste off of the brush and swallowing it, and when it comes time to teaching them how to spit out the toothpaste, they have to unlearn swallowing it. I use a toothbrush and plain water to brush my daughter’s teeth and that’s what I recommend to other parents as well. At a child’s first dental visit, his/her individual risk for cavities will be assessed, at which point the dentist can recommend an appropriate time to start using toothpaste with fluoride in it.
Some babies will love having their teeth cleaned, while others will detest it, but early exposure will definitely help. I started by showing her how to brush teeth by brushing my teeth in front of my daughter when she was really young and telling her about it so that she might be interested in it when the time came to brushing her teeth. And she has her own baby toothbrush.
There is also a really fantastic Elmo Song called “Brushy Brush Brush” that I started playing for her when she was only a few months old and she was in LOVE with it.
As moms, we have so many things that we need to do for our babies.
Please remember to add cleaning their teeth to the list. While it may not be easy at first, you will never regret implementing good oral hygiene habits early, but you may regret starting too late. A lifetime of healthy smiles starts now.
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