How to brush baby’s teeth and when to start

All you need to know about brushing your baby's teeth.

After some sleepless nights and a lot of drooling, there it finally was: My baby’s first tooth! We were so very proud and wanted everyone to see this marvel. But after some days, it hit me that now, of course, we should start brushing this tooth! And with this awareness, a lot of questions came to mind: Shouldn’t I have started brushing his gums earlier? How often do I need to brush my baby’s teeth? What should I use to brush his teeth with? Isn’t it harmful if my baby swallows toothpaste? How can I make brushing a fun rather than forced experience? So I did some research.

The AAPD (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) advises gently cleaning your baby’s gums twice a day, starting at birth, using a soft cloth and water. As soon as the first tooth comes through, they advise starting brushing, using a small soft toothbrush with a smear of fluoride babies-toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Increase this amount to a pea-size by the time your child is 3 years old. It isn’t a problem if your baby swallows the toothpaste, as long as you stick to the recommended amount. However, try to teach your child to spit out the toothpaste as soon as they are able to (at about 1,5 to 2 years of age). Do not have them rinse since rinsing would wash away the fluoride.

Why is dental health so important for babies?

Even though your baby only has his primary teeth for the first 6 to 8 years of its life, it is important to take good care of them for many reasons:

  • Cleaning and brushing your baby’s gum and teeth removes the plaque (the build-up on teeth) that causes tooth decay.
  • When your baby’s teeth are decayed or lost, it can interfere with good nutrition intake and speech development.
  • If the primary teeth are lost, they cannot hold a proper place for the permanent teeth, which could then come out crooked.
  • Creating a good dental hygiene habit early in life will help your child keep good dental hygiene later in life.

When to start brushing

It is advised to start cleaning the gums of your baby even before the first teeth come out. You can start as soon as your child is born. This is because if you don’t wash away the sticky plaque from the gums left by bacteria, it can damage your baby’s teeth as they come in. If you haven’t done this, don’t worry. But definitely start brushing as soon as the first tooth comes out.

What to use to brush your baby’s gums and teeth

To brush your baby’s gums or teeth, you can use a soft clean washcloth, a finger toothbrush, or a soft toothbrush made especially for infants. Use water to begin with.

After the teeth come out, you can start using toothpaste. But use only a tiny little amount the size of a grain of rice, as your baby will swallow it. If too much toothpaste is ingested, it could upset the stomach.

The AAPD advises using special infant toothpaste with fluoride. Some other sources advise using a toothpaste without fluoride or holding off on the toothpaste altogether for the first year and a half. If you are not sure if you should use toothpaste with or without fluoride, or if at all for the first year and a half, ask your pediatrician what he advises.

Make sure to replace your baby’s toothbrush every 3 to 4 months or so.

How to brush your baby’s teeth

Whether you use a cloth, a finger toothbrush, or an infant toothbrush, try to reach all areas of the gums and the teeth, front and back, using circular movements. Also, clean the tongue. This is easier said than done, I know. Just try your best.

It isn’t a problem if your baby swallows a bit of the toothpaste, as long as you stick to the small amount recommended. As soon as your children are able to, however, try to teach them to spit. This would probably be between 18 and 24 months of age. Do not, however, let them rinse, as this would wash away the fluoride.

You will need to brush your children’s teeth for them at first. Slowly you can teach them to do it themselves. At first, you can let them try and then go over the teeth one more time yourselves. Until they are fully able to brush their own teeth thoroughly, you will need to assist them. This will approximately be until the age of 7.

How often should you brush

Ideally, you should brush your baby’s teeth twice a day. Once just before bed, and once in the morning, either after breakfast or whenever it fits best into your schedule.

How can I make brushing a fun rather than forced experience?

What works wonders for us with our 9-month-old son is to brush our teeth at the same time as him. If he sees me, his father or brother brush our teeth, he also allows me to brush his teeth. After I finish with his teeth, he gets to hold the toothbrush himself. He usually puts it into his own mouth as if copying us.  (now, a year and a half later, we never have any problems with brushing his teeth, even if we don’t brush at the same time as him, as long as he gets to hold the toothbrush by himself afterward)

So far, this does the trick for us. But there are many tricks people use to make tooth brushing more fun and stress-free experience. Here are some tricks listed for you from Pampers:

  • Set a lighthearted mood. Play peekaboo while brushing teeth to lighten the mood for all involved, particularly for babies and younger toddlers.
  • Brush to the beat. Sing a favorite song or play some music on your phone and encourage “crazy brushing” until the music ends. Pick a song that’s about two minutes long, and brush for the entire length of the song. Use your toothbrush as a microphone for added laughs.
  • Race the clock. Set a timer or your phone’s stopwatch, and make it a race against the clock to brush until the “finish line.” If they brush until the buzzer goes off, they win a small reward like a sticker or an extra story at bedtime.
  • Involve a toy. Place your child’s favorite cuddly toy up near the sink and “brush” the toy’s teeth while your little one brushes hers. Tell them that the toy doesn’t want to brush his teeth alone.
  • Let them practice. Let your child practice brushing teeth on their favorite cuddly toy or on you. This might seem like a hassle, but it can teach them the motions that they’ll want to repeat on themselves later.
  • Give them some responsibility. Your toddler might be ready to try “big kid” stuff like picking up their cup, holding the toothbrush, or squeezing the toothpaste tube. Let them do their part, even if it means some spills. This will give them a feeling of independence and a sense of control over what they might see as a boring chore.
  • Make the toothbrush part of the game. Your little one may enjoy a toothbrush that lights up with a bright smiley face after two minutes of brushing or one that plays music for a few minutes, so they know to keep going until the music stops.
  • Reward good brushing. Your toddler may respond to a tooth-brushing rewards chart. Kids love nothing better than earning rewards for good behavior, and stickers for a job well done can give positive encouragement. You might try a system where each tooth-brushing sticker earned means an extra book at bedtime. You can offer a bigger reward for continued success, like a toy they have been asking for.
  • Get nice assessors such as a flashy-colored toothbrush.

In Conclusion

Ideally, you start cleaning your baby’s gum twice a day with a wet and soft cloth as soon as he or she is born. If you haven’t done this, don’t worry, but definitely start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth pops through. Try brushing twice a day with a small smear of fluoride toothpaste, as this will strengthen your baby’s teeth. Even though the primary teeth are just a temporary set of teeth, their health sets the tone for the teeth to come afterward. Be sure to brush your baby’s teeth for them initially and slowly let them take over. Oversee the process until your child is at least 7 years old, however. And last but not least: try to make it fun! Include songs or games and show them how it’s done.

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All you should know about brushing your baby's teeth