A baby’s primary teeth begin to come in at around six months of age, with the full set of teeth coming in by age 3.   Many parents wonder when they should begin dental care for a child’s teeth, and how to get started.  Read on for some guidelines.

Starting Dental Care for Infants

Your pediatrician should be able to determine a likelihood of dental problems just as the primary teeth are coming in.  You should have your primary physician perform an oral health risk assessment at six months of age, where they can identify the likelihood of future dental problems and advise you on early dental care.

Parents should begin cleaning their child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears.  Most experts recommend beginning formal dental care at 12 months of age.  The only exception would be if there is an injury, disease, or developmental problem (in which case you should see your dentist earlier).

Dental Care Tips for Children

Here are some tips for properly caring for your child’s teeth.

Brushing:

  • When the teeth begin to come in, clean them gently with a soft cloth or some gauze. You can use a soft toothbrush when your child has a few teeth.
  • Brush your child’s teeth until they can do it alone (usually around age 3).
  • Use only a tiny amount of toothpaste for children under age 2; use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste for children ages 2 to 5.
  • Be sure to ask your dentist when it is safe to begin using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Make sure your child is brushing twice a day by age 4.
  • Teach your child not to swallow toothpaste.

Flossing:

  • Begin flossing your child’s teeth when they touch.
  • Talk to your dentist about the best way to floss and proper flossing techniques.
  • Consider investing in disposable plastic flossing tools to make flossing easier.

Tooth Decay:

  • Always remove bottles as soon as your child finishes eating or falls asleep.
  • Avoid letting your child sleep with a bottle of milk, formula, or a sugary drink like juice. The acids can cause tooth decay if the bottle is left in the mouth overnight.
  • Try to encourage drinking from a sippy cup around 4 to 6 months of age.
  • Limit juice to four to six ounces per day, in a cup (not a bottle), for children ages 1 to 6.

Other Tips:

  • Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol. Talk to your dentist about a fluoride rinse like Act® instead for older children.
  • Ensure all toys and pacifiers will not cause injury to the teeth.
  • Avoid exposing your child to secondhand cigarette smoke, which can contribute to tooth decay.
  • Work with your dentist if your child sucks his thumb or fingers. Continuing to suck on fingers can alter the structure of the jaw.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of using fluoride with your dentist and follow his or her guidance on toothpastes and mouthwashes.

Dental Care Starts Early!

Remember, your child should have his or her first comprehensive dental exam at 12 months of age.  The visit will include a full oral exam, complete medical history, complete dental history for the infant and parent, and instructions on how to properly brush the teeth.

This visit will also give you a chance to ask questions about toothpaste usage, flossing techniques, tooth decay, and any other oral health concerns you may have for your child.

Written by: Dr. Yahya Mansour