Brushing Baby's Teeth: How to Get Started

Brushing baby's teeth as soon as they erupt will begin a habit that translates to a lifetime of healthy teeth. Infants teethe between 6 and 12 months of age, and develop 20 teeth before the age of three.

Caring for baby teeth needs to begin immediately when they're visible in the mouth, allowing you to stop tooth decay before it begins.

Why Baby Teeth are Important

Baby teeth, or "primary" teeth, help children chew food, but they also help your child form words and sounds for speaking. Brushing them regularly with the right substances reduces the bacterial plaque that builds up on teeth daily, preventing the decay and tooth loss that is possible over time.

Your child's teeth are also necessary space-holders in the jaw, prior to the arrival of permanent teeth. If they develop decay or fall out prematurely, your child may suffer improper development and eruption in the second set of teeth that are supposed to last them well into adulthood.

Cavities in baby teeth, or early childhood caries, need treatment as well. It can be an uncomfortable process for your child, so reduce the likelihood of problems with good dental hygiene. The best course of action is to brush your baby's teeth every day, and limiting his intake of fermented sugars, such as milk and juices.

When Does Teething Begin

According to the American Dental Association's (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, infants begin to show signs of teething before the baby teeth erupt. The first tooth can arrive at six months, or sometimes as late as one year. Your baby's gums may become red and swollen, encouraging them to drool more often. He may even experience some sleeplessness and irritability.

To help your baby cope with the discomfort, try the following:

  • Rubbing their gums with a finger.
  • Having the baby suck on a cool teething ring or small spoon.
  • Applying a moist gauze square to the gums.
  • Administering a child-appropriate pain reliever.

Brushing Baby's Teeth

Brushing your baby's teeth should begin at the gums. Simply wipe them with a wet washcloth or moistened gauze. Infant's teeth do not need a toothbrush; it's too soon for that. Wiping the gums of the currently erupting baby teeth is enough to disturb the most stubborn plaque. "Brush" your baby's teeth or gums twice daily, especially after eating and before bed. Once the baby teeth have erupted completely, you can introduce an appropriate toothbrush. The proper toothbrush should be:

  • Soft
  • Small-headed
  • Wide-handled

For children younger than three, the ADA recommends only a smear of fluoride toothpaste on the brush. Between the ages of three and six, fluoride toothpaste should be limited to a pea-sized portion to avoid overexposure. If you desire a fluoride-free toothpaste, choose a product such as My First Colgate®, which is safe if swallowed, and comes in fun flavors to make the experience more pleasant.

After your child's first birthday, schedule a visit to the dentist. As your baby grows, caring about his or her dental health is as important as their general health. A healthy mouth that allows for proper development of the teeth and jaw will lead to a lifetime of happy and healthy smiles.

About the author: Donna Rounsaville, RDH, BS, has been a dental hygienist in private practice for 31 years. Her experience in the prevention of dental problems and the importance of healthy eating, she has educated children in local schools in her hometown of Flemington, New Jersey. Donna is also passionate about infection control and office safety for dental workers, providing yearly training to her office colleagues. Active with the Girl Scouts as a leader and with children's liturgy at her church, Donna uses her communication and leadership skills to motivate young people in her community. She has been a writer for Colgate since 2013.

How to care for your infant’s first teeth?

As soon as baby teeth erupt it’s important to start taking care of them. Try toothpaste formulated specially for your little ones.