How to Care for Children’s Teeth

August 22, 2014

Dental hygiene for kidsWould it surprise you to know that good dental hygiene for kids starts before the first tooth appears in your newborn baby’s mouth? From the time they are born to when they get their first wisdom tooth pulled and well beyond, kids need to care for their teeth and their mouths, and they need their parents’ help to do it.

It’s vital that good baby dental care and dental care for kids are practiced so that adult teeth are healthy and strong when they eventually grow in. In this guide to caring for babies’ and children’s teeth, you’ll learn:

  • How to clean your baby’s mouth
  • How baby teeth develop
  • Baby teeth timeline for growing toddlers
  • Caring for baby teeth in babies and young children
  • When adult teeth start to develop
  • How to get older kids to practice good dental hygiene
  • The best tools to clean your kids’ teeth
  • Instilling lifelong good approaches to dental care

Whether you live in Phoenix, AZ, or Fargo, ND, the road to great dental hygiene and avoiding tooth decay in children starts early, and parents should also be setting a good example for their children on how to care for their teeth. Here’s everything you need to know about how to care for children’s teeth.

Baby Teeth Timeline: How They Grow

As every baby teeth guide will tell you, no two babies are alike. That’s especial true for growing teeth. Some children get their baby teeth when they’re only 3 months old, while others don’t grow their first pearly white until age 14 months. The average is somewhere in the middle. Most kids start teething at 6 months; the exact age depends on several factors, including when the parents got their first teeth and whether the child was born prematurely.

It can take weeks from when the baby first starts to demonstrate symptoms of teething to when the tiny tooth pops through. It’s important that parents be aware of these symptoms and respond quickly to help ease the baby’s pain. Signs of soon-to-pop teeth may include sore, puffy, red gums; drooling; changes in eating habits; fussiness; and pulling on the ear. Pain may be eased by massaging the gums; offering the baby something cold and thick to chew on, like a frozen washcloth; and giving the infant a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

The baby teeth schedule may vary, but generally the teeth come in at these ages:

Baby Teeth Guide: Doctors and Home Remedies

Although these baby teeth will not stay with your child for long, it’s important to clean and care for them just as you would adult teeth, to ensure that your child is developing proper oral hygiene for kids and laying the ground for healthy adult teeth. Even babies need to have a set daily cleaning schedule.

One thing that’s important to the early care of infants’ teeth and gums is to forego old home remedies for relieving your baby’s teething pain, such as offering him or her hard foods (to apply counterpressure on puffy gums) or rubbing a bit of alcohol on the sore places. In fact, both of these practices could actually put your child in danger. Chunks of hard foods like zwieback or frozen bananas could break off and become a choking hazard, and even a small amount of alcohol, such as brandy, applied to the gums could be lethal for a baby.

Instead, concentrate on using proven methods to console your teething children and care for their teeth. If you think something’s really wrong, such as a low-grade fever while teething that won’t go away or weeks of teething symptoms without any actual teeth, consult a doctor about your child’s symptoms and how they fit into the baby teeth schedule.

Caring For Baby Teeth

Once your baby’s first tooth has poked through, it’s time to add another responsibility to your day: cleaning that tooth. Up until the first tooth sprouts, you should be cleaning your baby’s gums twice a day with a moist cloth.

Wiping away residue after eating will help keep the gums clear of bacteria, though the most damaging strain of bacteria, Streptococcus Mutans (also called S. Mutans), generally doesn’t appear in a child’s mouth until age 3. Because this bacteria is present in adults’ oral cavities, make sure the child’s mouth does not come in contact with saliva from an adult’s mouth. Don’t kiss your baby on the mouth or share silverware, or your baby’s mouth will become infected with this bacteria.

Once your baby has teeth, it’s time to introduce the toothbrush. It should have a handle large enough that you can comfortably maneuver it but a head small enough to fit comfortably in the baby’s mouth. Initially it’s not necessary to use toothpaste when caring for baby teeth; simply wet the brush with water and clean the teeth after feedings.

After the child turns 1, the baby teeth guide recommends using a dab of nonfluoride toothpaste for these cleanings. Brush the front and the back teeth at least twice a day. As the child ages, you can move to fluoride toothpaste, but make sure your child can rinse and spit out.

Baby Teeth Schedule: When to Go to the Dentist

Many people mistakenly think that the first dentist visit shouldn’t be scheduled until all of the child’s teeth have come in. In fact, most dentists recommend the first trip take place at age 1. That’s because it’s important to set a baseline for children’s dental health. The dentist should get an early look at your child’s mouth to see how it is developing and advise on the proper oral hygiene for kids.

The dentist can also discuss ways to care for your baby while teething and whether your baby will need added fluoride in his or her diet to help avoid tooth decay in children. Plus, if your child is a thumb sucker, the dentist can offer tips on how to end this damaging habit and explain what sort of impact it may have on your baby’s growing teeth.

Baby Dental Care

Here are some dos and don’ts for caring for your baby’s teeth.

  • Do wipe your child’s growing teeth down twice a day.
  • Don’t forget about flossing. As soon as teeth grow right next to each other, it’s important to start using floss to keep the spaces in between clean.
  • Do get your baby to help with brushing as he or she grows older. Ideally the child will take the lead on brushing at age 2 or 3, and you should allow this. Make sure you follow up with a good brush after the child is done, to ensure all the teeth have been cleaned.
  • Don’t skimp on teeth cleaning just because you think these are baby teeth and they don’t really matter. Baby teeth can get cavities, the same as adult teeth, and getting them filled can be a stressful process for a baby or child, let alone an adult.
  • Do make going to the dentist fun. If you don’t treat it as a chore, your baby will enjoy it and be more comfortable in the chair as he or she ages.
  • Don’t skimp on dental care for kids. It’s extremely important to establish these daily brushing and flossing habits early as well as getting the child familiar and comfortable with the dentist. This will put babies on the path to great dental hygiene for kids as they age.
  • Do brush your child’s teeth after they take medicine, such as liquid acetaminophen for teething pain. There’s sugar in medication that can lead to tooth decay.
  • Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle after he or she has teeth. This can also lead to tooth decay.

As They Age: Dental Care for Kids

As your child grows older, they will take over more and more dental-care activities themselves. However, it’s still very important that parents remain involved in their children’s dental health. For instance, did you know that children do not have the dexterity to brush their teeth properly until they hit middle school? Continue to allow your child to brush first, but monitor the brushing carefully and step in to brush the teeth yourself if you think it’s needed. Even if your child complains, it’s worth it to combat future cavities.

You’ll need to teach your child how to floss, too. Ideally they should do it daily. There are great videos on YouTube that demonstrate proper flossing techniques, but the best way to learn is simply to practice. Again, you’ll need to monitor how to care for children’s teeth by staying with your child while he or she flosses to help get the hang of it. You may find it helpful to use unwaxed floss. It is thinner and thus easier to get through the smaller gaps in baby teeth.

Oral Hygiene for Kids: Proper Brushing

It’s extremely important to instruct your child on how to brush his or her teeth properly. This is not an easy thing to learn. You must be vigilant to make sure that the child is brushing at least two minutes per day, the amount recommended by dentists. Have your child hold the brush at a 45-degree angle, brushing gently from gum to tooth.

“Gently” is the key word — if your child saws away aggressively at the mouth, it could cause problems such as receding gum lines or tooth sensitivity in later years. Make sure the child covers every surface of the tooth, from the back to the top to the front.

Also remind your child to brush the top of the mouth and the tongue, moving the brush forward toward the front of the mouth. This gets rid of lingering bacteria in the oral cavity.

To help your child get a feel for how long he or she should be brushing, find a favorite song that lasts two minutes. Play that song every morning and night during tooth-brushing time so that the child gets familiar with how long the task should take.

Tooth Decay in Children: What Foods to Eat and What to Avoid

The No. 1 cause of cavities in children is poor diet. Even though baby teeth eventually fall out, children can still do a lot of damage to their teeth by eating foods that have lots of sugar and citric acid. Keeping baby teeth clean will help your child chew food correctly and make it easier to speak clearly.

Crunchy fruits and vegetables that clean the teeth, foods high in water, and protein sources rich in calcium and phosphorus that help teeth re-mineralize are the best choices. Other foods should be avoided most of the time. Unfortunately, these often are the foods that kids find most appealing. Limit consumption as much as possible and make sure your child brushes their teeth after he or she is done. If brushing is out of the question, at least have the child swish water around in his or her mouth to wash away some of the sugar. Here are the best and worst food for your child’s teeth:

Pit and fissure coating, plastic coating painted on teeth to protect them from cavities, are usually unnecessary for baby teeth unless their molars are especially pitted but recommended for a child’s permanent molars.

Children’s Dental Health: What to Drink

Most dentists recommend that between meals, children drink only water. Water helps cleanse the mouth of unhealthy bacteria, and it’s good for overall health, too, keeping your child hydrated. It’s OK to drink something other than water with meals – milk, for example, is a great bone-strengthener for young children.

However, stay away from soda, juice, and sugary sports drinks. Not only are they empty calories for kids, they also can harbor sugar and citric acid that leads to tooth decay. If your child has a more sophisticated palate, they may request tea or coffee. These, too, can be bad for the teeth, staining the delicate enamel. Try to have the child drink them through a straw to limit staining.

How to Care for Children’s Teeth: Tooth Hazards

Let’s face it, kids will be kids. Sometimes they won’t make the best choices about their dental care, and it’s up to you to back them up. Advise your kids to avoid these dental dustups, which can lead to damaged or lost teeth:

Chewing ice bad for teethChewing ice: This breaks down the enamel of the teeth, leading to premature wear and even chips.

sports and teethSports injuries: If your child plays a contact sport, such as football or field hockey, make him or her wear a mouth guard to protect teeth, gums, and lips from injury.

5_popcornEating popcorn kernels: Those tough little seeds are like chomping on a mouthful of rocks and can fracture kids’ teeth.


toothbrushSlacking on brushing when they have braces: You can get cavities when you have braces.

soda_bottleUsing teeth to open bottles: Stop your kids from using their teeth as bottle openers; remember, they’re not beavers. Teeth are for chomping, not leveraging a lid.

sippy_cupDrinking juice in sippy cups: Sippy cups should be used as a bridge from bottle to cup, and like any bridge you shouldn’t stay on it long. Sippies can hurt the formation of the teeth, especially when the child is slurping sugary juice from it.

Dental Hygiene for Kids: Setting a Good Example

The best way to establish good baby dental-care habits for your child in infancy and beyond is to set a great example. Children watch their parents like hawks and imitate everything they do. Act like a role model for great dental care. Eat the right foods and avoid sugary or staining beverages. Brush after every meal, floss once a day, and go to a family dentist twice a year for checkups. If you live in the Glendale, AZ, or Phoenix, AZ, area, AZ Family Dental can help your family answer any questions you may have about the baby teeth timeline and other concerns as your child grows.

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