Baby Teeth Basics: Hygiene FAQ

Learning to care for your child’s new teeth.

One of your top concerns as a parent is keeping your child healthy and happy. So as your little one grows and begins teething, you may find yourself wondering how to keep their new teeth healthy and strong. We understand that there’s a lot to learn, but you don’t have to learn it on your own. Dr. Shea and the rest of our staff are able to provide you with helpful advice and vital information every step of the way. To get you started, we’ve compiled the answers to the most commonly asked questions we hear about caring for your child’s baby teeth. 

How does breastfeeding impact my baby’s oral health?

Breastfeeding has many benefits for your baby’s long-term overall health, but it also provides a few benefits for their oral health. In addition to strengthening their immune systems, breastfeeding is thought to help your child develop a better, more aligned bite. This belief is based on the results of a couple of studies that compared babies who were breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives and babies who were only breastfed exclusively for a short period of time or not at all. These studies found that the babies who were breastfed exclusively were less likely to develop misaligned bites like open bites or overbites.

While this may decrease the likelihood that your child will need extensive orthodontic treatments down the line, it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll have a perfect bite; factors like genetics and pacifier use also impact the formation of your child’s bite. Breastfeeding exclusively can also reduce the risk of baby bottle decay because you’re not sending your little one to bed with a bottle full of sugary formula. Breast milk does contain sugars, however, so oral hygiene is still important to prevent tooth decay.

How soon should I start brushing my toddler’s teeth?

You should start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as their first baby tooth erupts from their gums. Baby teeth have a thinner layer of protective enamel than adult teeth, making them more susceptible to decay. Even if your child only has a single tooth, you should make sure to brush it twice a day. Plus, it’s better to build the habit and get them used to the sensation early on in their lives—you’ll be glad later!

When do I introduce fluoride toothpaste?

Dentists used to recommend waiting to use fluoridated toothpaste until after your child can understand they need to spit it out and not swallow it. In recent years, however, these recommendations have changed. Dentists and official organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics now officially recommend that you begin brushing your child’s teeth with fluoridated toothpaste as soon as their first tooth erupts. Using a very small amount won’t hurt your little one, but it provides vital benefits by helping them build strong teeth and prevent decay.

How do I clean my child’s baby teeth?

Use a child-sized toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste to brush your little one’s teeth twice a day. The ADA recommends carefully dispensing the fluoridated toothpaste to ensure your child doesn’t get too much. For children under three years old, dispense a small smear of toothpaste that’s about equal to the size of an uncooked grain of rice. With this small amount, it won’t be a problem even if your little one swallows a bit of toothpaste. If you’re worried, however, you can decrease the likelihood that they’ll swallow it by tilting their head down while you brush their teeth; this way, the extra toothpaste dribbles out of their mouth. For children between the ages of three and six years old, you can dispense a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, but make sure that they spit it out every time instead of swallowing it. You should also begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as they develop two teeth that touch each other.

When should my baby go to the dentist?

It may sound early, but your baby should go to the dentist for the first time as soon as their first tooth erupts—or no later than their first birthday. This way, Dr. Shea can check the development of your baby’s teeth, examine the health of the teeth that have already erupted, and give you advice or answer any questions you may have about your child’s oral hygiene routine.

Do baby bottles cause tooth decay?

When it comes to baby bottle tooth decay, the problem is less the bottle itself and more the way it’s used. If you send your baby to bed with a bottle full of formula, milk, juice, or another type of sugary drink, the sugars sit on their teeth for the entire night. Bacteria feed on these sugars and produce acids that eat away at the enamel, so this habit significantly increases the chance that your child will end up with cavities. Thankfully, you can help prevent this relatively easily by brushing your child’s teeth twice a day and sending them to bed with a bottle full of water.

Are sippy cups safe?

Sippy cups are an incredibly useful—and often necessary—step to help your child switch from drinking out of bottles to drinking out of cups. Similarly to bottles, however, sippy cups can lead to decay if they’re kept filled with sugary drinks. You can help prevent this by only giving your child sugary drinks during mealtime. Otherwise, try to stick to water—especially when you’re sending your child to bed.

While it might seem like there’s a lot of information to learn about caring for your child’s oral and overall health, there are plenty of resources to help you give your child the best oral care possible. Our staff is available to answer all of your questions and to support you when you need it. If you still have lingering questions about pediatric dentistry, you can call our office or check out our previous FAQ here.