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Healthy teeth are an essential part of your child’s overall well-being. Establishing good dental hygiene habits early on will set your child up for a lifetime of strong oral health.
However, cavities are very common among children. Most kids between ages 6 and 8 have had a cavity in one or more baby teeth.1
Learning good dental health habits at a young age prevents cavities and promotes healthy gums and a beautiful smile.
This guide covers key tips to help you maintain your child’s dental health, starting before their first baby teeth come in. Consult your child’s dentist or family doctor for any questions or concerns.
Tooth brushing is a fundamental part of oral care, and it should begin when your child is an infant.
Some people don’t think it’s important for children to brush because baby teeth eventually fall out. However, neglecting tooth brushing early on can lead to decay in baby teeth. In addition to causing discomfort and sometimes pain and infection, this can cause problems when the permanent (adult) teeth grow in.
Here’s how to keep your child’s mouth healthy, from infancy to over 6 years of age:
Use a soft, clean piece of gauze to clean your baby’s gums after feeding.
When your child starts teething, — usually around 6 months — begin gently brushing twice daily. Use a soft-bristled child-size toothbrush with a small (the size of a grain of rice) amount of children's fluoride toothpaste. At this age, many children cannot spit out any remaining toothpaste.
For toddlers and children aged 3 to 6, brush their teeth twice daily. You will need to assist your child with tooth brushing at this time. Most children aren’t able to effectively brush their own teeth until they’re a little older.
Use a pea-sized amount of children's fluoridated toothpaste. Make sure they spit out the toothpaste.
Continue brushing your child's teeth until you’re sure they can clean them safely and effectively themselves. Keep using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on a child-sized toothbrush until your child’s permanent teeth have grown in.
Children should begin flossing as soon as they have two teeth that touch. This usually happens around ages 2 to 3. Some children, however, may have teeth that are close together at an even younger age. Always ask your child’s dentist or family doctor about when it’s appropriate to start flossing.
Your child will need help flossing until around age 7 or 8. After that, they should be able to floss their own teeth.
As soon as a baby's first tooth appears (usually 4 to 6 months of age), schedule a visit with your dentist.
The American Dental Association (ADA) guidelines suggest that every child’s first dentist visit should happen within 6 months of the first tooth eruption and before the first birthday.
If your baby has had no teeth come in by 12 months, schedule a dental visit.
Depending on your child’s needs, a pediatric dentist may recommend the following treatments to supplement oral care at home:
Tooth decay is the most common childhood dental problem, but it’s preventable.1 Sugary drinks are the most common cause of pediatric tooth decay, or cavities.
Here are some tips to avoid cavities in children:
A child may be at greater risk for developing cavities in their baby teeth if:
Babies are born with 20 primary (baby) teeth in their jaw. Primary teeth usually begin coming through the gums at 4 to 6 months of age.
The first primary teeth to come in are usually the lower central incisors (bottom two front teeth). The top front teeth typically grow in next, followed by the lateral incisors. The first molars usually erupt before the canines.
The second molars are the last of the baby teeth to erupt. By age 3, most children will have a full set of primary teeth.
Kids usually start losing baby teeth around the age of 6 or 7. They usually fall out in the order they grew in, starting with the central incisors.
If your child’s primary teeth were delayed in erupting, they’re more likely to fall out later. The eruption chart below shows the typical order and age range in which baby teeth will come in and fall out (shed).
It’s a common misunderstanding that you don’t need to worry about caring for baby teeth because they’re going to fall out.
Even though your child only has their baby teeth for a short time, they serve essential functions, such as:
This list has all the supplies you'll need to start taking care of your baby's teeth.
This list has all the supplies you'll need to start taking care of your toddler's (18+ months) teeth.
Oral hygiene should begin before a baby’s first teeth come in. Wipe your baby’s mouth and gums with a soft cloth or gauze. Start brushing when they begin teething.
It can be tricky to get a toddler to understand the importance of tooth brushing. Try turning dental hygiene into a fun activity by playing a song, using kid-friendly dental products, or rewarding your toddler with stickers.
Molars are among the last primary teeth to come in. The first molars come in when a toddler is a little over 1 year old (13 to 19 months). The second molars erupt a little after a toddler is 2 years old.
Starting good oral care at an early age will set your child up for healthy teeth for life. Oral hygiene should begin even before a baby starts teething.
Regular dental exams and tooth brushing should begin as soon as your baby gets their first tooth. Primary teeth play a vital role in a child’s dental health, even though they eventually fall out.
In addition to brushing and flossing their teeth, children must eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water to maintain good oral hygiene. Always seek professional medical advice from a dentist or family doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
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