Even before baby’s first tooth, you can start building healthy habits by taking care of your baby’s gums. After feedings, you can wrap a clean, damp wash cloth around your index finger, and gently sweep over your baby’s gums. This will do two things: clean your baby’s mouth of any fragments of food as well as build the basis for oral hygiene habits. The more you baby gets used to you cleaning their mouth after feedings, the more likely they are to be comfortable with a toothbrush in the near future.
When that first tooth makes its appearance between ages 6-12 months, you can introduce a soft bristle toothbrush. You can choose between a toothbrush with a handle that you and your baby can hold at the same time, or a toothbrush that your wear like a finger puppet. At this point, you can skip the toothpaste and just use water. You can temporarily switch back to a damp cloth if baby is not reacting well to a toothbrush.
Flossing is also important when it comes to teaching hygiene habits, however this is a little different from brushing, so we recommend discussing this with your doctor. They can instruct you on when to start flossing and how to best help your child. If you notice signs of decay on your child’s teeth, contact our office immediately.
Once your child has multiple teeth, you can start to introduce small amounts of fluoride free toothpaste onto your child’s brush. Have your child practice spitting out the toothpaste to prepare for future use of fluoride toothpaste which should never be swallowed.
Because children under 2 cannot use fluoride to help protect against cavities and decay, it is extra important that you help them take care of their new teeth. As teeth come in, examine them every two weeks, keeping an eye on discoloration or lines that could be a sign of decay. Best practice is to make sure children are brushing after every meal as well as before bed.
Children of all ages should avoid sugary sweetened drinks and foods as the sugars promote tooth decay. Even fruit juice, formula, and breast milk can lead to decay which is why brushing from such a young age is so important. Babies should never go to bed with a bottle for this reason. When these sugary liquids have extended contact with the teeth, it leads to early childhood decay or baby bottle caries.
The easiest way to encourage children to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Children are naturally curious and want to mimic you. If they see you brushing and flossing daily, they will show interest. Offer them their own toothbrush when they show interest, preferable a child’s toothbrush with a chunky, short handle for easier grip. Although they will not be able to properly brush their own teeth, allowing them the time to hold and play with a toothbrush can help them feel more comfortable with having their teeth brushed. Most children do not have the motor skills to properly clean their teeth until about age six or seven, so they may need assistance up until this age.
If you have older children who treat brushing teeth as a chore, try making it more fun. You can do this by letting them pick out a toothbrush with a character they like, or a tooth paste with their favorite flavor. Play songs that are two minutes long as a timer for child to know when they are done brushing. Whatever gets your child excited about brushing their teeth, so they can build lifelong healthy oral hygiene habits.