In children, teeth should be cleaned as soon as they emerge. By starting early, your baby gets used to the daily routine. A soft washcloth wrapped around your finger can substitute for a brush when teeth first appear. Ask your dentist when you should switch to a toothbrush. Some dentists suggest waiting until four teeth in a row have come out; others recommend waiting until the child is 2 or 3 years old.
Click here for an animated demonstration on the proper way to brush.
Here are some tips for taking care of your child’s teeth:
- Choose a small, child-sized, soft-bristled toothbrush. Soaking the brush in warm water for a few minutes before brushing can soften the bristles even more.
- Both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend using an amount of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice as soon as your baby's first tooth appears. You can graduate to a pea-sized amount when your child turns 3 years old.
- Brush your child's teeth twice a day - in the morning and just before bed. Spend 2 minutes brushing, concentrating a good portion of this time on the back molars. This is an area where cavities often first develop. Take turns brushing with your child, as she may want to help.
- Replace the toothbrush every 3 or 4 months, or sooner if it shows signs of wear. Never share a toothbrush with others.
- Start flossing your child's teeth once a day as soon as two teeth emerge that touch. The use of floss sticks or picks instead of regular string floss may be easier for both you and your child.
- After your child is 6 years old, a fluoride rinse can help prevent cavities. Ask your dentist which product is right.
- Ask your dentist about your child's fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
- Ask your dentist about dental sealants. These are thin, plastic protective barriers that fill in the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, protecting them from tooth decay.
- Ask your pediatrician about application of fluoride varnish as early as 1 year of age
When Should Children Brush and Floss on Their Own?
Most children lack the coordination to brush or floss their teeth on their own until about the age of 6 or 7. Up until this time, remember that the best way to teach children how to brush their teeth is to lead by example. Allowing your child to watch you brush your teeth teaches the importance of good oral hygiene.
How Safe Is Fluoride for My Child?
Fluoride is safe for children. Fluoride is a natural mineral that protects and strengthens the teeth against the formation of cavities. Using it early in your child's life will provide extra protection for developing teeth. Find out if your tap water contains fluoride by calling your local water authority. If your tap water does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist if you should give your child a fluoride supplement.
Do Home Faucet Filters Remove Fluoride?
There is a wide variation in water filters. Some do filter out fluoride; others do not. Check with the manufacturer of the filter you have purchased or have the water tested by a laboratory that does this type of testing.
Does It Matter What Toothpaste My Child Uses?
Many children's toothpastes are flavored with child-pleasing tastes to further encourage brushing. Select your child's favorite. Also, look for toothpastes that carry the American Dental Association's (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. This indicates that the toothpaste has met ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. Finally, read the manufacturer's label. Some toothpastes are not recommended for children under a certain age.
Can My Child Use a Mouthwash?
Generally, mouthwashes are not recommended in children who are incapable of spitting and rinsing - skills that occur around the age of 6. In older children, a fluoride mouth rinse can help prevent tooth decay and cavities in addition to brushing and flossing. Rinsing after a meal with water will also help remove some larger particles of food left on or between the teeth.
When Should My Child Start Seeing a Dentist?
It is generally recommended that an infant be seen by a dentist by age 1 or within 6 months after his or her first tooth comes in. This allows the dentist to inspect the teeth for any irregularities and counsel the parents on correct brushing methods and appropriate diet.
Children's teeth emerge at different times. Check out this chart to learn more.