Brushing up on Baby Teeth: Infant Oral Hygiene 101

toothbrush toddler infant
(Photo: iStock)

You finally got your baby to love their pre-bedtime ritual of lavender-scented sponge baths, baby book reading, and cozy, fuzzy onesies. But what about their teeth or as the case might present, that one lone tooth?

Even if baby is still at the gummy stage, it's never too early to start considering proper oral hygiene as taking care now safeguards healthy teeth and gums for that first official visit from the tooth fairy.

Newborn to Six Months
Between the time of newborn to three months, it's essential to clean your baby's mouth with gauze or a warm washcloth since milk contains sugars in the form of lactose. Though you don't need to worry too much, the American Pediatric Association advises to regularly clean mouths after every breast-feeding for a clean, pre-teething environment. Additionally, keep a water bottle by their side at night. If you put them down with a bottle of milk or juice, this form of tooth decay known as "baby bottle mouth" can be harmful as they sleep with a mouth full of potentially acidic liquid that ultimately creates an acidic environment for gums and developing teeth.

If your baby shoots a steady stream of saliva down that round chin during the three to six month mark, relax Womanistas — this is a true baby norm. Drooling, a low-grade fever, and "gumming" objects are adorable signs of early teething. While the wee-wonder might start growing irritable, provide them with something cold to chew on, like a teething ring placed in the fridge. As you wait for that first tooth, get into the habit a few times daily to wipe their gums clean.

Moreover, make sure your oral health is in tip-top shape. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests babies can "catch" cavities, specifically from mothers. Known as "streptococcus mutans," these cavity bacteria transmit even before baby teeth erupt, so the better your oral care, the less risk you run for baby cavities.

Six Months to Two Years
According to Erskine Family Dentistry, parents should make an appointment to see a dentist as soon as a child gets their first tooth. Of course, the debut of that first tooth occurs during the sixth month and by the time they're two, 20 little chompers are in place. While these teeth inevitably fall out, they serve in the development of speaking, smiling and chewing effectively, as well as becoming a placeholder for forthcoming teeth.

You might be wondering how to clean their teeth. What about toothpaste? Should they still be on the bottle?

First, softly brush each tiny tooth as soon as it appears, but use soft-bristled toothbrushes designed for infants. If afraid to tackle tiny teeth, continue the washcloth routine.

Before they're capable of spitting efficiently, Erskine Family Dentistry advises parents use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste without fluoride, as too much is dangerous. Constantly have them rinse and spit after brushing to begin that lifelong habit for when they can use fluoride toothpaste.

If baby teeth are lost early on due to baby bottle mouth, nearby teeth encroach spaces, resulting in crooked teeth or delay the emergence of permanent teeth. This is why it's important to wean babies off the bottle by the age of one. Moreover, if a baby's tooth turns dark due to falling or roughhousing with siblings, this condition ("dark tooth") needs attention. Check for infection and thoroughly examine for little bubbles popping up above the tooth. If so, see your dentist immediately.


Two Years and Older
With a full-set of pearlies finally making their debut, your baby — we mean, toddler — has never looked more beautiful. But if your child was premature, let your dentist know, as preemies are at a higher risk for cavities than full-term babies and more prone to dental complications as they grow older. A study from the Academy of General Dentistry found preemies have the lowest rate of dental development before six years of age, causing their teeth to be more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities.

When they turn three, introduce them to floss. Using waxed floss that easily slides between teeth begins the process of implementing healthy habits and should accompany curbing habits like pacifier or thumb-sucking. While many children grow out of that habit by age four, carrying on can cause permanent damage to dental development. If it becomes an issue, see your dentist and try positive reinforcement daily. For instance, congratulate them and constructively change their habit through hugs and kisses when not sucking their thumb or pacifying. Just don't use candy as an incentive.