Little chompers: A guide to brushing your baby's teeth

How to look after babies’ and young children’s teeth.

It’s a thrilling milestone when your baby cuts their first tooth, but looking after their teeth and gums starts earlier than you might think.
“Most people assume that you need to start an oral hygiene routine once the teeth appear, but in actual fact we need to pretty much start from day dot,” says dentist Dr Mark Psillakis, executive clinical consultant with Bupa.

The cleaning process

He advises parents to use a clean moist gauze or fine cloth and wipe their baby’s gums after each feed. This aims to remove any residual milk to prevent the growth of unwanted bacteria. “It’s also good to start getting your child used to having something put into their mouth to clean it from a very young age,” he adds.

Some babies are even born with a tooth or two, but for most, their ‘baby’ or ‘milk’ teeth begin to break through the gums around the age of six months. These first teeth are essential for chewing, speech development and the successful development of adult teeth.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell when a tooth is first breaking through, and the moment a tooth begins to erupt there is a small pocket in the gum where bacteria can collect, so regularly wiping your baby’s gums will help clean this – just watch your fingers as those chompers start to emerge!

Once teeth have erupted it is important to start brushing twice a day. “Young children’s gums tend to be a lot more sensitive than adults’, and there are toothbrushes that are made specifically for babies and toddlers, with very soft bristles,” says Dr Psillakis.

“There are also paediatric toothpastes that have low levels of fluoride that you can introduce from around 18 months. Because toddlers often can’t rinse and spit out toothpaste effectively, it is important to use a low-fluoride toothpaste so that they don’t take in excess fluoride, which can lead to white spots on the teeth,” he adds.

Parents should start by brushing their toddler’s teeth for them, letting them practise for some of the brushing time, until they are confident their older child can do it competently by themselves.

First teeth are essential for chewing, speech development and the successful development of adult teeth.

Teeth tips

  • Don’t let your baby go to sleep with a bottle of milk or formula as the sugar in them allows bacteria in the mouth to form plaque acids on teeth and can lead to tooth decay.
  • Limit fruit juices and dried fruits in your baby’s diet, and be extra careful to brush their teeth after they consume these products.
  • Replace toothbrushes every three months or so, more often if they are showing wear.
  • Two to three minutes is the ideal length of time for brushing your teeth, but for young children it can be slightly less. Dr Psillakis suggests using a timer or hourglass to help children learn how long to brush their teeth for.
  • Dr Psillakis advises that parents try to ensure the child associates their toothbrush with their mouth and not anything else, and to let it air-dry to prevent the growth of bacteria on it.
  • Use dental floss if your toddler or young child is complaining about food stuck in their teeth, but be mindful of their delicate gums.

By taking the best care of your baby’s teeth and gums from the outset, you are helping to ensure they have a shining set of pearly whites for years to come.

Bupa Dental

Keep smiling with Bupa. Did you know that 90% of dental disease is preventable? For help to prevent oral health issues before they arise find a Bupa owned dental clinic near you.

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