Brushing Baby Teeth: When to Start, How To Do It, and More

There’s nothing quite as joyful than watching your baby light up a room with a smile. Those first  giggles,words, and grins make some of the most heart-warming memories as a mom and/or a dad. Navigating parenthood can be challenging and come with a variety of hurdles and unknowns; we hope that the information we share here can help your little one’s oral health not be one of those hurdles. 

We want taking care of your baby’s teeth to be easy, so, in this guide, you’ll learn when to start brushing your baby’s teeth, how to do it, how what your baby eats can affect their oral health (which is why our products are low in sugar and high in vitamins and minerals), and more tips and tricks to make the process as fun and as simple as possible.

Why Brushing Baby Teeth is Important

Ever wonder why it’s so important to spend time and effort caring for teeth that are going to fall out anyway? Most baby teeth stay in the mouth for around 6-10 years! (1) 

The lower incisors are typically the first to arrive at six months and the baby molars are typically the last ones to shed at 12 years old. So, your child will have their baby teeth for most of their elementary years, which is why taking care of their dental health from the very beginning can be so important. 

If decay builds up or infection spreads to the root of the tooth, this can cause a world of pain and discomfort for your child. If a decayed tooth has to be pulled early, this can cause the grown-up tooth to grow in crooked, which can lead to problems with your child’s bite registration down the road.This can also lead to poor speech development, difficulty eating, and increase their risk of dental problems later.

Brushing your child’s teeth from a young age can not only help keep their teeth from decay and bacteria, but it could help instill good dental hygiene habits for the rest of their life.

When To Start

If you’re the parent of a new little one, figuring out when to start brushing your baby’s teeth is one of the biggest obstacles, and can be confusing/a lot of information to digest.

Baby teeth usually don’t start popping through until they’re about 6 to 12 months old, and they may not stop coming in until around 2 to 3 years old. (2)

So, when should you begin brushing their gums and teeth? Just as soon as you can see a tooth (or even practicing before teeth come in). Likely, this will be around six months, or whenever you see the bottom of their first teeth poking through. 

To practice before their teeth come in, you can take a small piece of gauze or soft cloth, moisten it with water, and gently wipe your baby’s gums to rid their mouth of bacteria or build-up -- no toothpaste necessary! You can do this after their feedings, or before bedtime.

Practicing these dental health tips can protect your little one’s gums and help them get used to having their mouths/teeth brushed. Oral hygiene can be a big hurdle for kids who don’t have their teeth brushed until around two or three years old, so letting your child get used to your hand in their mouth is a huge win that can make brushing so much easier in the future (for you and for them!).

How To Do It

Once your baby has teeth, you will want to introduce some form of toothbrush into their dental hygiene routine. 

A finger brush is a small silicon cover you can put on your finger to easily brush your baby’s teeth and is a great option for the few months of brushing before a toothbrush is introduced. Instead of the nylon bristles used in typical “big kid”  toothbrushes, a finger brush has silicone bristles that are gentle yet effective in removing plaque and bacteria in babies’ mouths.

There are also other good baby toothbrushes that are made specifically for small sensitive mouths. Using either of these options is fine when starting to introduce good brushing habits.

When you brush your baby’s teeth, here are some steps to remember:

  • Wet the toothbrush or finger brush.
  • Use a small smear of baby-friendly toothpaste. 
  • In gentle, circular motions, brush each surface of the teeth, including the gum line.
  • Tilt their chins down to help them “spit out” the toothpaste.
  • You can have them rinse with water and try to spit again, or just wipe their mouths with a washcloth.
  • Repeat this twice a day.

As their teeth are still coming in, there is no set amount of time to brush; just try to get every surface of the tooth (front, back, and biting surface) and the gumline to rid the teeth and gums from build-up and decay.

The Fluoride Debate

As a parent, it’s important to know what you’re putting in your baby’s body and how it is (or isn’t) beneficial to them. Fluoride toothpaste is recommended by dentists as one of the best ways to fight bacteria, build up, and cavities, but there is also a large community of parents who choose to go fluoride-free. Here’s the scoop!

What is Fluoride?

Fluoride is commonly used in dentistry and comes from the natural element fluorine. It occurs naturally in our bones as well as our teeth, and is also found in plants, rocks, and even the air we breathe! This element helps strengthen the outer layer of teeth and protect from cavities.

Arguments for Being Pro-Fluoride

Fluoride has been proven to help in the enamel remineralization process, not to mention its lead role as a naturally-derived anti-cavity ingredient that helps protect teeth from the acid that decays them.(7) 

Fluoride is considered by the American Dental Association to be the best ingredient for defending against cavities and helping to protect and strengthen teeth in the long-run.(8)  

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until six months to introduce fluoride. And even then, only using a very small smear of toothpaste.

Arguments for Going Fluoride-Free

Fluoride is one of the best ways to protect your baby’s teeth and help them stay healthy. However, there are some risks you should be aware of.

Fluoride in toothpaste is not supposed to be ingested. A small amount of toothpaste swallowed won’t hurt your child, especially if you use a smear amount. But, to prevent your child from swallowing toothpaste when first brushing, you can help them tilt their head down so the spit drips off their chin, or you can use a washcloth and some water to get most of it out.

If ingested, fluoride could cause an upset stomach. The National Capital Poison Center recommends having your child drink a glass of milk, or other dairy product, to help settle their tummy if this happens.(3) The NCPC also reminds parents that any amount of toothpaste you use is most likely not big enough to be toxic to your child but having them spit is a good habit to develop from a young age.

A lot of people are also wary of dental fluorosis, which is essentially when there are white streaks across the teeth when children are overexposed to fluoride.(4) Skeletal fluorosis is a similar concern where fluoride actually builds up in the body over years of heavy fluoride ingestion, and can actually reform or reshape the bones.(5) Many are concerned that because fluoride is already included in a lot of city and suburban tap water sources, including in toothpaste increases the risk for this condition. 

Toothbrush and Brushing Techniques

The best brushing techniques are super easy and can become a habit before you know it! The most important thing to focus on when brushing your baby’s teeth is to try and cover every surface of the tooth. This means brushing the front, back sides, and the biting surface of the teeth.

Another great technique to try is brushing in a circular motion. Teeth are not flat -- they have grooves, corners, and nooks and crannies  that are hard to reach if you only brush back and forth. A circular motion helps get into all the little grooves, which will prevent bacteria build-up and decay.

Brushing the gum line is also an important aspect of your child’s oral hygiene. Remember, you don’t need to brush the gums hard to brush the gum line effectively. Just hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, so the bristles are tilted upward toward the gum line, and brush in gentle, circular movements; keep the brush at this angle so it can get under the gumline and prevent decay.

When Your Child is Old Enough to Brush Their Own Teeth

Brushing your baby’s teeth from a young age does a world of good for their future oral hygiene. By starting to brush around six months,(or whenever you see their first tooth), you will instill great dental habits into their routine and get them used to brushing and cleaning their teeth, eventually on their own.

When your kiddo is ready to brush by themselves, watch and help them out the first few times to help to build their confidence and brushing skills. Watch what they’re doing so you can correct their form and help when needed. 

For example, make sure they spit after brushing, and make sure they brush for the appropriate amount of time (about two minutes). You can make it fun and teach them a song to sing so they can keep track of how long they’ve been brushing.

Nutrition and the Dental Health of Your Little One(s)

What your baby is eating and drinking affects their oral health. Babies and kids need to “eat healthy to help keep their teeth free from decay and other dental problems,” says the Cleveland Clinic; “good nutrition involves all the food groups, and healthy choices make for good dental health.”

Carbohydrates, sugar, and starches can cause tooth decay as the food particles and bacteria coat and cling to the teeth long after mealtime (Cleveland Clinic, 2021). With babies’ dental health in mind, Serenity Kids’ pouch purees are nutrient-dense and low in sugar. With our ethically sourced meats and organic vegetables, our purees naturally contain collagen, vitamins and minerals that help support gut health, which, in turn, all support healthy gums and teeth from infanthood and beyond.

“As a dentist, I make sure to ask all of my patients one question. ‘How is your digestive health?’ This often surprises them..why would a dentist worry about a patients’ gut health? The answer is simple. Often, the problems I see in the mouth are caused by the digestive system. Also, there may be a clue in the mouth that suggests a problem with the gut microbiome,” says Dr. Steven Lin; “the mouth is a part of your gut microbiome and home to your oral microbiome. Microbes, enzymes, and nutrients all pass through it on their way to your gut. Your gut has its own unique microbiome. Your mouth and gut microbes always interact with one another, so digestive health problems can affect your oral health.” 

Making healthy food choices for your baby while also implementing proper teeth brushing skills into your little one’s routine will help their dental health thrive, keeping their teeth free from decay and other dental problems.

Summary

Knowing when and how to start brushing your baby’s teeth, and trying out these easy tips will help you properly care for your little one’s teeth from the beginning. It’s important to practice good dental health from the start so kids can get into a simple oral hygiene routine, creating healthy habits for years to come. Happy brushing!



Sources:

  1. Toothbrushing Tips for Young Children - healthychildren.org
  2. Baby’s First Tooth: 7 Facts Parents Should Know - healthychildren.org 
  3. Dental advice for babies and toddlers (0-3 years) - dhsv.org.au
  4. My Child Ate Toothpaste Should I Be Worried? - Poison.org
  5. Dental Fluorosis - American Dental Association 
  6. Skeletal Fluorosis - Science Direct 
  7. Fluoride - American Dental Association
  8. Dental Hygiene: How to Care for Your Child's Teeth - familydoctor.org
  9. Fluoride Clinical Guidelines - American Dental Association
  10. How Your Gut Microbiome Links to a Healthy Mouth - Dr. Steven Lin 

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