Babies need to get used to the feeling of dental items in their mouth to prepare them for the daily brushing routine, so it's important to start cleaning the gums and tongue from day one. Although you don't necessarily need to use a separate baby tongue cleaner, you do want to get in the habit of wiping the tongue, gums and eventually the teeth as soon as they erupt.
Oral Care Before the Teeth Come In
How you care for your baby's mouth depends on whether he or she has developed any teeth yet. Before your baby has teeth, you won't need to use a toothbrush, baby tongue cleaner or toothpaste. Instead, a small piece of gauze or a washcloth soaked in a bit of water should suffice. After feeding, wrap the gauze around your index finger, carefully lay your baby across your lap, and cradle the head in your arm.
A gauze-wrapped finger to carefully massage the gums and remove any remaining bits of food or milk is recommended. While you carefully wipe your baby's tongue with the gauze, be careful not to put your finger down his throat. Use gentle, circular motions to clean both the tongue and the gums. There's no need to use toothpaste at this stage, since there are no teeth. Remember to throw away the gauze and wash the washcloth after each cleaning.
Oral Care After the Teeth Come In
Your baby's oral care routine should change slightly after the first tooth comes in, usually anywhere between the ages of four and six months. Once those first teeth pop up, you can start using a soft, kid-friendly toothbrush with a head designed to fit in a very young child's mouth for easy navigation. Use this toothbrush to clean visible teeth, and continue to use the damp gauze to clean the gums and tongue.
During your baby's first dental exam, a dentist can give you an idea of when it's acceptable to start using toothpaste to clean the teeth and tongue. Although it was once recommended that you avoid giving babies under the age of two any amount of fluoride, the South African Dental Association (SADA) changed its stance in 2014, observing safe advantages to a very small amount of fluoridated toothpaste when cleaning the mouths of those under two years old.
Because the guidelines for cleaning your baby's teeth and tongue with or without the use of toothpaste can be confusing, one of the best things you can do to ensure your infant's oral health gets off to a great start is to consult with your paediatric dentist. This dentist can give you a fair idea of whether or not using toothpaste from a young age would be helpful. He or she can also provide step-by-step instructions for cleaning a baby's gums, tongue and teeth, and advise which are the most helpful products to use when doing so.