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Caring for Your Child's Teeth and Gums from Birth to Age 8

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If you're a parent, we know you do everything to ensure your child is happy and healthy. So, when it comes to your child's oral health, you naturally want to do all the right things. But, like a lot of parents, you might be unsure of the best way to start your kid on the road to great dental care.

We're here to help you set your child up for a lifetime of positive dentist visits – and avoid childhood cavities and gum disease. Therefore, we present this tip-filled guide to proper oral hygiene practices for babies through 8-year-olds.

Parents' Guide to Child Oral Hygiene Practices

Caring for your infant's gums from day one is as essential as tending to their teeth the minute baby's first tooth arrives. And, even though baby teeth end up with the tooth fairy, those cute mini-chompers play an important role. They're vital to the health of your little one's gums (which last a lifetime) and to the adult teeth preparing to come in underneath.

Keep in Mind

  • Without proper care, your petite sweetie's baby teeth can decay. In the early stages, cavities appear on the teeth as white spots, turning black or brown as the cavities get large. Bad breath can also be a sign that your youngster has a cavity.
  • If plaque builds up inside your child's mouth, gum disease could develop – with red, swollen, and bleeding gums as symptoms.
  • During the years your baby grows into a fully functional child, make sure each step of the way you have age-appropriate:
    • Toothbrushes with extra soft or soft bristles to fit their mouths – and start a new toothbrush every three months.
    • Toothpaste with taste-bud appeal and tolerance for certain ingredients – such as artificial colors, preservatives, harsh flavors, and sodium lauryl sulfate.

Oral Care Timeline

Newborn to 6 Months: "Brush" away the bacteria from your baby's gums at least once daily:

  • Wrap clean, soft, moist gauze around your finger or put on a terry-cloth finger cot.
  • Gently rub the gauze or cot along your baby's gums.

6 Months through Age 1: When your little darling's teeth start coming in, get out the baby toothbrush and toothpaste. Start gentle, twice-daily cleanings and set up the first dental visit:

  • Put a grain-of-rice-sized sliver of fluoridated baby toothpaste on the brush. (Your baby won't be able to spit.)
  • Start using a finger toothbrush that doubles as a teething toy.
  • Schedule baby's first dentist appointment before your infant turns 1 year old.
  • Only give your kid water in nighttime bottles and in sippy cups to avoid Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. (Continue this practice as your child gets older.)

Ages 2 to 3: At these ages, your kid likes being more independent. They might want to hold their own toothbrush but lack the manual dexterity to brush effectively. That's why you must continue to be hands-on with their oral care during these important years:

  • At age 2, continue with toothpaste the size of a grain of rice.
  • At 3, put a pea-sized dab on their toothbrush and teach them the art of spitting.
  • Make brush time fun time by singing silly brushing songs and playing goofy brushing games.
  • Find and read some great children's books about oral care habits and dentist visits.
  • If your child insists on holding their own brush, put your hand over their hand to ensure teeth are properly brushed.
  • Spark your little one's curiosity by brushing your teeth in front of your child.
  • When two of your tot's teeth start touching, clean gently between them with waxed floss, floss picks, or interdental cleaners.
  • Schedule morning dentist visits when kids at these ages are usually on their best behavior.
  • Put on a happy face during dental visits to eliminate anxiety.

Ages 4 to 5: Keep up the great routines you've established with brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist. And add these activities:

  • Teach your kid how to brush and let them practice at least once a day.
  • But, since your tyke still lacks the manual dexterity to brush thoroughly, you'll need to brush their teeth again, especially at bedtime.
  • Devote new ways to making the brushing experience fun.
  • Add new age-appropriate dental-related books to reading time.

Ages 6 to 8: By this time, your kid can do many oral health care tasks independently. Your job will mainly be an oral health care monitor – though give yourself a more fun title! (Inspector Fangs, perhaps?)

  • Check the effectiveness of your child's toothbrushing with dental disclosing tablets. By staining plaque areas on your kid's teeth, these tablets provide an entertaining way to see what areas need further brushing.
  • Introduce rinsing with fluoridated, bacteria-destroying mild mouthwash, or rinse. Kids love to spit at this age!
  • Help your youngster floss their own teeth until they develop the knack.

By age 9, your kid should be an oral care expert – and you can give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Raising children is a lot of work but with major rewards. If you start your child's life on the right oral health path, it should be much easier to continue the journey every step of the way. And the reward will be your kid's beautiful, healthy smile!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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