Baby teeth are only around for part of your child’s life, but they play a big role in how their smile will develop. They help with eating, are an important part of speech development, and hold space for the permanent adult teeth to grow in later.
That’s why it’s so important to take good care of your child’s smile. Because oral health problems from childhood can have a big influence on adult teeth.
Infected baby teeth can damage permanent teeth, which are already developing under the gumline, potentially causing stains and visible holes (pits) to form on the teeth.
A baby tooth that is lost early could cause neighboring teeth to drift and eliminate space for the permanent tooth. Once lost, this space can only be regained through orthodontic treatment.
Caring for your child’s oral health over time
Birth to 6 months old
Clean your baby's gums and teeth with a soft, damp washcloth (or use a soft infant toothbrush) after feedings and at bedtime to get rid of unwanted bacteria.
If you live in an area without fluoridated water, speak with your pediatrician or dentist about whether you should use a fluoride supplement.
Don’t put babies to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice. These liquids provide an easy food source for bacteria, helping them cause tooth decay.
When a pacifier falls on the floor, don’t clean it with your mouth. This can spread bacteria and germs from your mouth to your child.
6 to 12 months old
Your child’s first baby tooth should come in around this time. Within six months of this happening (or no later than their first birthday), take your child to their first dental visit. This helps you and your child feel comfortable with your dentist and establishes a home for any dental emergencies or problems.
Once the first tooth shows up, begin brushing in soft, gentle circles twice a day. Use a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and a rice-sized smear of fluoride toothpaste.
When two teeth touch, you should start flossing to clean areas the toothbrush can’t reach.
If your child is fussy while teething, applying a cold spoon or washcloth can help.
Sharing forks, spoons, and food with your child can spread germs that cause cavities. Use separate utensils to help keep your child’s mouth clean.
1 to 3 years old
Continue to take your child to regular dental appointments to keep their smile healthy.
Around age 3, as your child learns to rinse and spit, begin to brush with a pea-sized portion of fluoride toothpaste.
This phase is a good time to wean your child off pacifiers and stop them from thumb-sucking. After age 3, these habits can shift baby teeth out of their proper position and cause permanent teeth to erupt incorrectly.
Encourage your child to drink plenty of water during and between meals. This helps them stay hydrated and washes away food so the bacteria in their mouth can’t feed on it.
The transition to adult teeth takes years, as most children lose baby teeth from age 5 or 6 until around age 12 or 13. At that point, the only permanent teeth left to appear are wisdom teeth (the third molars), which usually erupt sometime between the ages of 17 and 21.
Brush today for a healthy tomorrow
Taking care of your little one’s teeth and gums will create big benefits as they grow. Establish good oral health habits early on and you’ll both reap the rewards for years to come.