When should I start brushing my baby's teeth?
Start cleaning your baby's teeth twice a day as soon as you see his first little tooth bud emerging. If you start early, your baby will get used to having his teeth cleaned.
Your baby's first tooth will most likely be a bottom front one, appearing when he's about six months old. However, the time a baby's first tooth appears can vary hugely. A few babies are born with a tooth through already! Others still have no teeth by the time they're one.
Your baby will eventually have 20 milk teeth, all of which should be through by the time he is about two-and-a-half years old.
It may seem a long way off now, but it's best to carry on brushing your child's teeth for him until he's at least seven. By that age, he should be able to do it properly for himself.
Do I need to buy a toothbrush for my baby?
At first, you may find it easier to clean your baby's teeth using a piece of clean gauze or muslin. Wrap it around your finger, put a tiny smear of toothpaste on it, and rub it around your baby's teeth.
If you'd rather use a baby toothbrush, pick one with soft nylon bristles and a small head. This will allow you to reach all parts of your baby's mouth easily and comfortably as each new tooth emerges. Look at the packaging to see what age range the brush is designed for.
Replace your baby's toothbrush regularly, about every one month to three months. If the bristles start to spread out, it's a sign that the toothbrush needs changing.
What kind of toothpaste is best for my baby?
Look for a toothpaste made for babies and containing fluoride, which helps to prevent tooth decay. Check the packaging for fluoride levels to make sure you're buying the right toothpaste for your baby:
- Under-threes should use a lower-fluoride toothpaste, though it should still contain at least 1,000ppm (parts per million) of fluoride.
- Your child won't be old enough to share your ordinary family toothpaste, containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm of fluoride, until he's about three.
How much toothpaste should I use?
You won't need more than a smear of toothpaste. A thin film of paste covering less than three-quarters of the brush will be fine.
Encourage your baby to spit after a tooth clean. Try not to worry if it takes him a while to get the hang of it. The idea is to gradually teach your baby good toothcare habits that will last a lifetime.
Don’t let your baby eat or lick toothpaste from the tube. Choose a toothpaste that doesn't have a tasty, fruity flavour, so your baby learns that toothpastes aren't food. Swallowing large amounts of fluoride can damage teeth, giving them a mottled effect, and may even make your baby sick or give him diarrhea.
How do I clean my baby's teeth?
Try to get into the habit of brushing your baby's teeth twice a day. Do it once in the morning, at a time that fits in with your usual routine. The second clean should be before bed, after your baby's had his last drink.
You may find that sitting your baby on your lap, facing away from you, helps you reach his teeth more easily. (This position will work well when your baby is a toddler, too. See more ideas for how to brush a squirming toddler's teeth.)
Brush with small, gentle circular movements, concentrating on the area where the teeth and gums meet. Remember that during teething, your baby's gums will feel tender, so be very gentle.
When you've finished, make sure your baby spits out the excess toothpaste, but don't rinse his mouth with water. Leaving a bit of toothpaste residue on the teeth makes the toothpaste work better.
If your baby dislikes having his teeth brushed and squirms away, try giving him his own toothbrush to hold. This way he's more likely to feel in control. You can even let him have a go himself, though he'll need help from you for a while yet.
If you can, let your baby watch you brushing your teeth as often as possible. This will help him to get used to the idea.
Your dentist or dental hygienist will be happy to help if you need more guidance.
When should I take my baby to the dentist?
At first, take your baby along to your own dental appointments. That way he'll get to know the sights, sounds, smells and routine of your dental surgery.
If you get anxious about going to the dentist, make a separate appointment for your baby instead. Then he won't pick up on your fears.
How else can I protect my baby's teeth?
The main cause of tooth decay is sugar. It's not just the amount of sugar that can be harmful, but how often it's eaten or drunk throughout the day.
Every time your baby has something sugary, it starts to break down the mineral surface of his teeth. Your baby's teeth can recover after eating something sugary, but it can take hours. If your baby has something sweet at regular intervals throughout the day, his teeth won't have time to repair themselves.
Only offer your baby sugary food and drink at mealtimes, so that there will be several hours between the times he has something sweet. This includes dried fruits, which are high in sugar and stick to teeth, as well as fruit juices and fruit smoothies.
If you want to give your baby a snack between meals, choose savory options such as cheese or vegetables. Read our ideas for tooth-friendly snacks for more information.
To really give your child the best chance of healthy teeth, you should also:
- Only offer breast-milk, formula milk, or cooled, boiled water as drinks for your baby.
- Avoid squashes, fruit juices, flavored milk and fizzy drinks. These usually contain lots of sugar and cause tooth decay.
- From around six months, give your baby drinks from a beaker. Once he's a year old, try to discourage him from using a bottle, and only give him milk or water to drink at night.
- Provide your baby with a healthy, balanced diet. Encourage him to enjoy savory foods such as vegetables and pasta, and don't add sugar to his food.
- If you use prepared baby foods, check that they are sugar-free or have no added sugars or sweeteners. Be aware that other sugars, such as lactose, fructose and glucose, are just as harmful to your baby's teeth as plain sugar.
- If your baby needs to take medicine, choose sugar-free versions.
Should I give my baby fluoride supplements?
It's unlikely your baby needs supplements. These should only ever be used on the advice of a dentist, who can prescribe the correct dose for your baby's age, taking account of whether the local water is fluoridated.
If your child has too much fluoride when his teeth are developing it may damage his teeth, giving the enamel a mottled look.
If you live in an area where fluoride has been added to the water supply then your child is less likely to need supplements. However, it depends on the level of fluoride in the water.
If you don't know how much fluoride there is in your drinking water, ask your dentist or check with your local water company online or by phone.