Dental Hygiene Tips For Babies and Toddlers

The first time a tooth pops through your baby’s gums is exciting! And then you realize you have to learn how to take care of those pearly little baby teeth. Not to worry—figuring out your children’s dental health isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems. To help you get from “When do babies get teeth?” through the very first dental visit and beyond, Prince Lionheart has compiled some tips to keep you and your little one smiling all the way through.

Taking Care of Baby Teeth From the Start

Did you know that your children’s dental health starts before their teeth even appear? That’s right—even that gummy little grin needs care. This is something that first-time parents and veteran parents alike can easily do. Start preparing for those first little teeth by setting your baby up with a healthy mouth. First, if your baby uses bottles, make sure that you never put them to bed with a bottle or let them use it the way they’d use a pacifier. Letting milk pool and languish in your baby’s mouth allows the sugars in milk or formula to begin to create a buildup of the bacteria that cause tooth decay on your baby’s gums. That buildup of bacteria can even cause tooth decay as soon as that first tooth pops through. Yikes! Instead, hold your baby when they drink from a bottle or breastfeed, and go ahead and give them a pacifier if they still need to self-soothe. Another thing you might not have thought of—don’t share spit. You probably do it more than you think you do. Unfortunately, you can actually pass cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth to your baby’s mouth. It’s important not to get in the habit of sharing utensils or using your own mouth to “clean” a pacifier or bottle nipple. Siblings shouldn’t share utensils or cups, either. In short (and this is a good thing to remember overall), keep your germs to yourself.

Also think about what your baby eats and drinks, even when it comes to first foods. Up until 4 to 6 months old, your baby will be exclusively drinking breastmilk or formula. But after that, you’ll be introducing your little one to the wide world of solid foods. Once you do, avoid overly sugary foods or drinks. Try not to feed your kid the kinds of foods that stick in the teeth. For example, juice is never necessary for a baby, and puffs and crackers are notorious for sticking to the teeth and encouraging cavities. Even if your baby doesn’t have a single tooth yet, lean toward feeding your little one fruits, veggies, and dairy to keep those teeth healthy and strong. It’s also a great idea to offer your baby fluoridated water between meals. Water with fluoride has been shown to reduce cavities by 25%, but it also establishes good habits early. When you’re thirsty, have some water!

When Do Babies Get Teeth?

If this is your first baby, all of this is brand new to you. Plus, brushing up on dental hygiene for babies was likely not at the tip-top of your list of things to do. But, as soon as you start to notice that telltale drooling and your baby’s interest in gnawing on everything in sight, you’ll probably think, “Wait. When do babies get teeth?” The timeline can vary somewhat, just like all things kids, but most babies start to get their first baby teeth between 4 and 7 months old. You’ll almost always see the bottom two front teeth pop through first, followed by the top two front teeth. Then the remaining incisors come next, followed by first molars, then canines, then second molars. Most kids have all 20 of their baby teeth by the time they’re almost 3 years old. Yep, that means your baby will be teething on and off for 2 full years, so get ready for a lot more drooling and fussiness. And, of course, you should be taking great care of those tiny pearly whites the entire time.

When to Start Brushing Baby Teeth

So how exactly do you take care of a small baby’s teeth? How do you know when to start brushing baby teeth? Believe it or not, you can get started before a single tooth even comes through. Practice wiping down your baby’s gums after they eat and before bed with a clean, moist washcloth. Wiping their gums gently twice a day helps to wash off the bacteria that can eventually cause tooth decay. This will help your baby get used to dental hygiene because they’ll already be accustomed to having your hands in their mouths while you wipe their gums, which is a weird but necessary part of children’s dental health. As soon as you see (or feel!) that first little peek of white coming through your baby’s gums, you can move on to a soft baby toothbrush. Only wet the toothbrush at first and get your baby used to the feeling of a toothbrush in their mouth. If they’re teething, they’re going to want to gnaw on the toothbrush, but try to discourage that so that they don’t get confused about the purpose of a toothbrush. Once they’re used to the baby toothbrush, add a rice-sized dab of toothpaste designed for small children. It’ll be a while before they know how to spit out the toothpaste properly. Make sure you don’t overdo it, so they don’t swallow too much. Brush those little baby teeth for two minutes, twice a day. Once more teeth begin to erupt, you can begin flossing between them.

Baby’s First Dental Visit

Now that you’ve started taking care of your children’s dental health at home, when should you bring your baby in for their first dental visit? The American Dental Association recommends that your baby’s first dental visit take place within 6 months of their first tooth erupting, but no later than their first birthday. For ease, remember, first visit by first birthday. Make the appointment for a time when your baby is usually happy and awake. Show your baby that you’re excited about the experience (rather than potentially passing along any of your anxiety). The first appointment shouldn’t take long—typically about 30-45 minutes—and will vary somewhat depending on the dentist and your child’s age and teeth. When you call to schedule the appointment, ask what you should expect. Your child’s dentist will likely look at your baby’s jaw and bite, as well as examining any teeth that have come through and checking the gums and other oral tissue. They may or may not do an actual cleaning of any teeth, but they’ll probably send you home with a great new baby toothbrush.

Seeing a pediatric dentist can make all the difference for babies or kids who might be resistant to a stranger poking around in their mouth. (And really, can you blame them?) Pediatric dentists are trained to work with small children and small mouths, and they’ll be prepared for the kinds of questions you’re likely to ask, including offering advice about diet and fluoride needs for your child. They can also give great advice about the best ways to brush a tiny person’s mouth and how to floss an impatient and wiggly little person. Starting early helps you and your child establish a relationship with the dentist. Plus, it also gets everyone accustomed to the process of getting a dental checkup. Just remember that children’s dental health relies on you taking the lead and having the right information. If you start your baby off on the right foot with their baby teeth, you’re setting them up for a lifetime of great dental habits.

Tips to Keep Baby Teeth Healthy

It might seem like brushing is sufficient when your baby has so few teeth, but as their teeth continue to come in, there’s actually a lot you can do to make sure that your baby’s teeth stay healthy. Make sure that dental hygiene is part of your day, twice a day, and every day. If you establish good habits and keep up with them, your kid is more likely to maintain those habits as they get older. Make it fun, and they may even look forward to it! So, what do good dental habits look like for little ones, and how can you make sure that the process is fun instead of a chore? Here are some tips to keep your kids involved and excited about their dental health. We swear it’s possible.

  • First, set a routine and stick to it. Your kids are more likely to brush and floss regularly if it’s a part of their daily routine. Each morning after waking up, and each night before bed, help your kids brush and floss, and it becomes a habit.
  • Model proper dental hygiene. If you want your kids to continue maintaining their dental health, you should model what that looks like. We all know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” which holds just as true here. Show your kids that you’re committed to taking care of your teeth and gums, and they’re more likely to stay committed to taking care of their own.
  • Make it fun. Make dental care fun by doing your dental care routines together and incorporating games and fun accessories. Get a bathroom set with a fun toothbrush holder that reminds them to keep those teeth sparkling. Bonus: The more they enjoy the process, the more likely they are to get started on their own, without any nagging from you. Win!
  • Make sure they can do it themselves. “I do it myself!” If you haven’t heard it yet, you will. But family is verb®. We go with it. Make sure your kid is able to do as much on their own as they can so that they feel empowered (and you don’t have to get into a power struggle). Get a step stool to help even the littlest tots reach the sink, and encourage kids to get their toothbrush and learn to start brushing all on their own.
  • Break bad habits. We all have bad habits, and you can help your kids break theirs before they cause problems. Nip any finger or thumb sucking or pacifier habits in the bud before those habits affect your child’s teeth. Make sure they don’t bite their nails or chomp on ice when they get antsy or nervous. Discourage chewing on anything that isn’t designed expressly for that purpose, and talk to your dentist about any habits you worry could affect your kid’s teeth or gums.
  • Avoid absent-minded snacking. We’ve all been guilty of grabbing that bag of chips because we’re bored, but snacking should take care of hunger, not boredom. Make sure you’re not using crackers and puffs to fill time and reserve snacks for set times at the table. Snacking can truly be a constant for kids, especially while they’re growing, but it should be focused on healthy foods for hungry kiddos, rather than a solution for crankiness.
  • Limit foods that lead to tooth decay. Foods with high sugar content, like candy, juice, and soda, are common culprits for causing cavities. However, the sneakier culprits are foods that stick to your teeth and breed cavity-causing bacteria, including pretzels, dried fruit, and fruit leather. Try to stick to feeding your child whole fruits and veggies instead, or lean toward cheese sticks or low-sugar yogurt. When your kid is thirsty, always offer water.

Continuing to Care for Baby Teeth: Maintaining Children’s Dental Health

Now that you know when to start brushing baby teeth, you need to figure out how to keep those positive habits up. As your child gets older, and all their baby teeth continue to come in, their dental care will change a bit, too. Once your child is about 3, for example, you can start using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste to brush that mouthful of chompers. By the age of 3, your kid should be able to spit the toothpaste out after brushing, so they’re less likely to swallow it all. You’ll also be flossing more and more as teeth continue to come in and get closer together. A plastic flosser is sometimes easier for wee mouths, but feel free to go with standard floss, too. As long as you’re getting between those teeth to scrape out the plaque and any food that gets stuck, you’re doing the job. It’s crucial that you continue to help your kid brush and floss until they’re at least 7 years old, though many kids need help well after that. They should brush first, and you can follow up, making sure to let them know if you see spots they’re missing. Teach them to pay extra close attention to the gum line and back molars.

What to Expect at Future Dental Appointments

After your baby's first dental visit, continue to see your child’s dentist every 6 months. That way, you’re keeping your child in the habit of seeing the dentist and getting used to the process of getting a checkup. It also lets your child’s dentist track potential problem spots and treat them early on before they cause major problems. Unfortunately, even baby teeth can get cavities, which can cause them to fall out before they should. Since they’re no longer there to hold the space for your child’s grown-up teeth, losing baby teeth too early can be a recipe for crooked teeth that need more work later on. Baby teeth are also important for helping your child learn to talk and for learning to chew food correctly. Keeping your child’s baby teeth healthy with proper dental care helps with all of these things. Plus, it also helps keep their grownup teeth healthy when they start to come in, too.

Teeth cleanings will become more involved as your child gets older, and more baby teeth come in. If there are any problems or cavities, you may need to come in more often. You can also talk to your kid’s dentist about sealants to help protect their teeth and reduce the likelihood of cavities. Sealants have been shown to protect against the risk of decay in molars by nearly 80%, and school-aged kids without sealants have almost an astonishing three times the number of cavities than kids with sealants. Preventative care really works, so make sure you’re talking to your dentist about what you can do for your children’s dental health to prevent any problems down the road. Starting early means that you’re ahead of the game.

Children’s Dental Health: From Baby Teeth to Permanent Teeth

From babyhood, all the way through to about 6 years old, your kid’s baby teeth will be getting them through a lot of firsts. From their first dental visit to their first birthday cake to the first of many foods and words and then full, nonstop sentences, those little baby teeth have a lot of work to do. Make sure they can do all of that and more by helping to keep your kid’s baby teeth as healthy as possible. Taking care of your children’s dental health teaches your kids how to continue to care for their teeth for the rest of their lives; this is an important job for you. We know you’re up to the task!

A lifetime of good dental hygiene doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of perfection. Every day is a new day to start over and do it even better. You may not achieve perfect dental hygiene every single day (spoiler: you definitely won’t), but if that’s your goal, you’ll get pretty close. And you know what? We’re not sure what more you can ask for. We don’t have all the answers, and neither will you, but we can work together to provide as well as we can for life’s grand improvisation: Raising kids.

At Prince Lionheart, we know that life happens everywhere®, and the best moments in life happen when you least expect them. We work hard to make new products that make your time together as a family even better, and that includes the time you spend in the bathroom brushing tiny little teeth. You might not think that brushing teeth together will be a lifelong memory for your kids, but if you do it right, we’re pretty sure it can be. The truth is, it’s not always going to go perfectly. Some nights you’ll forget to floss, and some mornings you’ll be too tired to brush very well. Other days, you’ll end up with toothpaste in your hair, and the entire roll of floss pulled out at your feet. It’s all okay. Kids are messy. So is parenting.®