Your baby’s cutting his first tooth! And that means it’s time to begin thinking about dental health. You can’t start too soon, says paediatric dentist Zoi Tzelepi of Happy Kids Dental.
“It’s best to start healthy habits straight away,” she says. “That means you need to start cleaning baby teeth as soon as they appear.
“This is important because baby teeth have a thinner outer layer of protective enamel than adult teeth, so they are more vulnerable to decay.”
It’s natural to have some concerns about brushing your baby’s teeth. Are you doing it properly?
How much toothpaste should you use? Will it be uncomfortable for him?
How can you make it less stressful if he doesn’t like it? Follow our simple step-by-step guide to brushing baby’s teeth at different stages.
Brushing your baby’s teeth during teething
So no teeth are actually visible yet? Nevertheless, the teething stage is still important when it comes to getting baby used to brushing.
“Most babies start teething at around 6 months,” says Zoi. “When that begins, I recommend starting to introduce them to the idea of cleaning when teething by wiping their gums and teeth using a piece of clean gauze or soft washcloth.
“A lot of parents also find baby-friendly dental wipes helpful. They contain xylitol – a natural sweetener that is good for teeth because it helps reduce the growth of decay-causing bacteria.”
If your baby starts to suffer from teething pain or inflammation, you can try to use teething rings. A second option is to try a teething gel, which may help to soothe discomfort. Apply enough gel with a clean little finger to cover the sore area and gently massage the gums. Your baby may chew softly on your finger while you do it.
Brushing when your baby’s first teeth come through
“As soon as your child’s teeth start to come through, introduce them to a small soft toothbrush,” says Zoi.
“Start brushing regularly as part of your child’s morning and night-time routine, using a smear of fluoride toothpaste, with at least 1000ppm fluoride.”
You’ll probably find it’s easiest to sit baby on your lap, with his head resting against your chest. Try to gently cover all surfaces of the teeth with the brush in tiny circles.
There’s no need to rinse afterwards as that will wash away the protective fluoride. You could make it more fun by singing to baby as you brush.
Don’t worry if you don’t do it perfectly – at this stage, what’s most important is simply getting your baby used to teeth-cleaning.
Brushing your child’s teeth as a toddler
Keep using a small, soft toothbrush with just a little fluoride toothpaste. You could crouch behind him and tilt his head backwards.
At toddler stage, though, you may find you start having battles with your child about brushing.
“My daughter would initially let me brush her teeth but since hitting 18 months or so won’t let me anymore,” says Morello on our forum.”
“My solution has been to let her do it herself. She has been watching my husband and I, and gives them a bit of a scrub.”
It’s a great idea to let your child imitate you, agrees Zoi. “Get into the habit of brushing your teeth in front of your child: by showing them how you clean your teeth, and they’ll soon want to copy you.”
If you’re worried your toddler isn’t reaching all his teeth when he’s having a go at brushing his own, another idea is to share the brushing with him.
“My son lets us brush his teeth first so we know they’re done, then he has his turn,” says EmilyB on our forum.
“He’s almost 22 months and doesn’t tend to fuss over teeth brushing, but he does sometimes try to grab the brush before it’s his turn, so we just remind him it’s our go first, then his go.”
Brushing your child’s teeth when they’re 3+
This is the next stage at which brushing changes. “You can now start using a small, pea-sized amount of toothpaste, containing at least 1350ppm fluoride,” says Zoi.
Your child will probably be brushing his own teeth by now. But you will still need to help. “All children should be supervised and assisted with their brushing until they are 7 years old,” says Zoi.
If your child is making a fuss about having his teeth cleaned, try to make it a game. “When my son didn’t want to clean his teeth I told him his toys needed theirs cleaning, so he came, in cleaned their teeth, and then I said, “Right, now your turn!” says Cas1980 on our forum.
We love the idea of brushing a teddy’s teeth first, or a doll’s. Or consider investing in special toothbrush that play songs or flashes: who’d have thought cleaning your teeth could be so much fun?!