Toddler with baby teeth a spoon in his mouth

How to Guide: Oral Care Tips for Babies and Toddlers From a Dentist

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Guest post by Dr. Paul Sirek (BSc, MSc, DDS)

As a dentist, I’ve answered many questions from new parents about the oral health of babies and/or toddlers. Often parents don’t know when to start brushing, how often to brush, whether or not to use toothpaste, etc. They’re also unsure which of the many products on the market will best suit their children’s needs. If this is you, you’re in luck! Below is an easy-to-follow guide with accurate information on how to effectively clean your child’s teeth and gums.

Before we get into the specifics, you may be wondering why it’s important to clean baby teeth. Aren’t they just going to come out anyway? Well... yes, but they do have many important functions while they’re around. The obvious advantages of baby teeth are for chewing food and learning to speak. However, they are also “space maintainers” for the incoming adult teeth. If they are lost prematurely, the space for the adult teeth may be lost resulting in crowding or adult teeth that do not come in. The last, and perhaps most important, reason to clean baby teeth is to avoid infections. Now that we know why it’s so important to have healthy baby teeth, let’s get into the specifics on how to effectively achieve this.

Brushing/Wiping

When there are no teeth present you still need to clean your child’s gum pads. This not only reduces the number of bacteria present in your child’s mouth, but it also gets them used to regular cleaning! You’ll want to take a soft washcloth and get it wet with warm water. Gently wipe the upper and lower gum pads, tongue, cheeks, and the roof of their mouth at least two times a day.

When a few teeth come in, you can either use a silicone finger brush or a children’s toothbrush wet with water only. Do not put toothpaste on at this point (unless otherwise recommended by a dentist). Gently rub finger brush or toothbrush on gums, teeth, and tongue at least two times a day.

When more than 4 teeth appear side by side use a children’s toothbrush. Place bristles on a 45-degree angle towards the gums on the base of the tooth and vibrate gently back and forth making sure not to apply too much pressure. After several vibrations, rotate the toothbrush along the surface of the tooth. Move the toothbrush to the next tooth and repeat. Make sure to brush the front, top and back surfaces of all teeth. The toothbrush can also be used at least twice a day to brush the gum pads and the tongue.

There is no set age when children can start brushing their teeth on their own. I usually suggest they try (supervised!) when they can tie their shoes and/or eat with a knife and fork, and/or write their full name. Brush heads should be replaced every 3-4 months on average. Brushing is most important right before bed. During the night, the body makes less saliva which is protective for the teeth. Without a nighttime brush, the risk of cavity formation is greatly increased.

Toothpaste

Children with a low cavity risk (assessed by a dentist) should not use fluoridated toothpaste until three years old. They should either be using water or children’s fluoride-free toothpaste if desired until that point.

Children with moderate to high cavity risk (assessed by a dentist) should use fluoridated toothpaste at any age. If using fluoridated toothpaste prior to three years old, please see a dentist. Do not use fluoridated toothpaste in children under three unless otherwise recommended due to risk of irreversible staining (fluorosis) of teeth, overdose, and/or poisoning of fluoride.

Toothpaste should be dispensed in a rice-sized amount until the age of six. Children six years and older can use a pea-sized amount if they are able to consistently spit out toothpaste. Parents should always dispense toothpaste as it can be toxic in large doses.

So there you have it! An easy-to-follow guide on how to effectively clean your child’s teeth and gums. If you have any comments or questions, I would love to hear from you!

Dr. Paul Sirek (BSc, MSc, DDS)
Chaplin Dental

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