The Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth
The arrival of your baby's first tooth marks the beginning of a new chapter. It's a sign she's developing normally and getting ready to eat solid food. That first eruption also marks a new chapter for you. From the day that first tooth arrives, you're responsible for remembering to brush, not just your own teeth, but your baby's too―twice every day. That might be a challenge when you're so busy and tired that you struggle to remember your own name, but teaching your child good dental hygiene practices from the very beginning can only help her stay healthy... and, not to mention, limit your dental bills in the future.
Some infant milestones are tough to remember. It's easy to figure out when to start brushing your baby's teeth, though: It should become a part of your daily routine on the same day that the first tooth starts poking its way through her gums.
Use a toothbrush designed for infants. The head should be small and soft. Choose a fluoride toothpaste with a mild flavor; again, a brand designed for use with infants is best. The minty or spicy toothpaste you use may be too strong for your baby's tastes. Some parents are nervous about using fluoride toothpaste on a baby's teeth, but dentists say it's safe for infants and is necessary to prevent tooth decay. Talk to your pediatrician about the toothpaste she recommends if you have any concerns.
To brush your baby's teeth, apply a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice to the brush. A tiny amount is essential because your baby can't spit and may end up swallowing any excess toothpaste. Make it a habit to brush her tooth twice a day, preferably right after feedings. If she's resistant, try gently tickling her chin to get her to open her mouth and singing a lullaby while you brush the front and back of each tooth. Don't use floss until her dentist tells you to do so.
Dental Care Before Teeth
Tooth decay isn't a risk until your baby's first tooth arrives. But breast milk and formula contain sugars; letting those sugars sit on your baby's gums can only cause problems. Even before your baby's first tooth arrives, it's important to keep his mouth clean. Wipe his gums daily with a clean, wet washcloth or a piece of gauze, or use a wet toothbrush to get the job done. This pressure might even feel good to him when he's teething, so you may opt to rub his gums with a clean toothbrush after every feeding.
Dental Care After Teeth
Pick up the phone when that first tooth arrives. It may seem premature, but your baby should see a dentist soon after his teeth begin to come in and no later than his first birthday. There's not much for the dentist to see at this point, but establishing a baseline early on will allow the dentist to monitor your baby's development and identify any problems with his teeth before they get worse.
Continue brushing his teeth twice a day until he's old enough to do it himself, around the age of 3. Pay special attention to the upper front teeth. They're the ones most commonly affected by tooth decay at this stage. He's going to need those teeth to remain strong and healthy until the Tooth Fairy visits.