Just like your baby’s first smile, getting his first tooth is a major milestone that you’re probably awaiting with baited breath. “The average age for getting a first tooth is 6 months, but it can be as early as 3 months, or as late as a year,” says dentist Dr Natasha Hamid. “Some babies are even born with teeth, but this is very rare.” Often there are symptoms that you’ll be able to see without peering into your little one’s mouth. “He might start dribbling more, be chewing on things or seem more unsettled than normal,” says Natasha. “You might also notice strange-coloured or runny poo in his nappy, a rise in his temperature or redness on his cheeks.”
“Keep an eye out for changes in your tot’s gums, too,” says dental advisor Karen Coates from the British Dental Health Foundation. “You might notice a bulge on your baby’s gum. At first it’ll look red but, as the tooth pushes nearer the surface, the bulge will turn white,” she says.
Worried you’ll miss that first flash of white? “All children are different but generally the front central incisors come through first,” says Karen. “Usually it’s the lower ones first, followed by the corresponding upper teeth. Next come the lateral incisors, then the canines and finally the molars. Most children will have all 20 first teeth
by the age of roughly 2 ½ ”
“Our teeth first form as tooth buds while we’re still in the womb,” explains Natasha. “After we’re born, they gradually push their way through our jawbone and out of our gums. As this is happening, our adult, or permanent, teeth are following behind, ready to emerge after the first teeth have fallen out.”
Your baby’s first teeth are made of exactly the same stuff as adult teeth – enamel, dentine and pulp. “The only difference is there’s less enamel on first teeth, which makes them more susceptible to decay,” says Natasha.
Anyone who remembers their wisdom teeth coming through will know that growing new teeth is painful. “The process of a tooth breaking through can take months,” says Karen. “It stops and starts, which explains why your baby may have periods of grumpiness that come and go.”
Easing the pain
Some babies breeze through teething without too many problems. But for others it can be a slow and painful process. “If you think your child’s suffering, you can give an age-appropriate painkiller, such as infant paracetamol,” says Karen Coates. “Massaging teething gel specifically designed for babies onto his gums may also give short-term relief.”
Or try heading to the fridge. “Giving your baby something cold and hard to chew on can be helpful,” says Natasha. “Try a teething ring or perhaps a cold raw carrot stick, always keeping a close eye on him. There are also teething powders that I’ve always found to be helpful.”
Powders are particularly good for easing tummy upsets that can be caused by teething – either sprinkle them on your little one’s tongue or roll a wet dummy in the powder for him to suck on.
Now your little one’s the proud owner of a tooth, should you buy a toothbrush? “You should start brushing as soon as you spot their first tooth,” says Natasha Hamid. “There’s no harm in starting even earlier, getting him used to the taste and the brush. Some parents find it easier to use a clean gauze or cloth, particularly if their child dislikes the taste of toothpaste.”
“There’s no harm in letting him chew on the brush, too,” adds Karen. “The most important thing is to clean his teeth twice a day – for two minutes if he’ll let you – preferably an hour after food or milk.”
There are plenty of baby toothpastes on the market, but Natasha says it’s fine to use your regular paste. “We now say it’s OK to use normal adult toothpaste as long as it’s used sparingly. Children of this age only need a thin smear on the brush,” she says.
A trip to the dentist is bound to make most of us grimace, but it’s important to show a positive attitude around your little one, says Karen. “Take your baby with you whenever you go to the dentist. That way he gets used to it and won’t have fear,” she says. And what about your tot’s first check-up? “I suggest a child starts visiting the dentist at around 3 years old, as he should have all his first teeth by then,” says Natasha. “Try to find
a dentist who’s good with children and knows the tricks to keep them relaxed.”
“When my daughter Rosie was about six months old, she started crying hysterically and seemingly without reason at 5pm every day. Finally, after two weeks of tears, we discovered why when her first tooth appeared. And they just kept coming! I found the best way to ease her pain was to let her bite down on my hand or, if that failed, Calpol seemed to help.”
Antonia Jost, 33, from London, mum to Rosie, 8 months