Toddler brushing teeth

Baby teeth care

Common Questions

Here are some commonly asked questions and answers on the best baby teeth care.

When should I start to clean my baby’s teeth?

The first sign of a tooth erupting through the gums (usually 5-9months of age) is your cue to start cleaning their gums and teeth.

How should I clean their teeth or gums?

Start with a soft moist cloth and gently rub this over the gums. As soon as you think they would tolerate a tooth brush in their mouth, use a soft bristled and compact head toothbrush. A toothbrush should be changed regularly, around every 3 months or when signs of “shagginess” start to appear.

TIP – Buy two brushes, one for you and one for baby, and take turns at brushing.

Why is it important to look after their baby teeth, they fall out anyway?

There are many reasons why it is important to maintain healthy ‘first’ teeth. Without them their speech would be affected, they would be unable to eat a healthy range of foods and they wouldn’t have that gorgeous smile. First teeth also keep the spaces correct for when their second teeth (adult teeth) descend.

Is it all right to use toothpaste for my baby?

The Australian Dental Association recommends that you wait until your child is 18 months old before you introduce toothpaste. Even then it is recommended that you use a very small smear of children’s toothpaste. These have a reduced level of fluoride and higher level of calcium specially formulated for young teeth.

When should I first visit the Dentist with my child?

The Australian Dental Association recommends visiting the dentist once a baby’s first tooth comes through, or when the child is 1, whichever comes first. Ideally it would be around the time of their first birthday, and definitely before they turn 3. At this visit the Dentist will assess the alignment of your child’s jaw, check any teeth that are already through for signs of decay and offer you some guidance on how to best care for their teeth.

Are there any hints on how to make the experience stress free?

Prepare your child for a visit to the Dentist or dental clinic by reading books about the Dentist or role playing the “Dentist game” with teddy or dolls. Explain how some Dentists like to wear masks over their mouths, also teach your child how to open their mouth wide like a frog so that the Dentist can have a look inside. Remember not to use any negative words when talking about the visit like “scared”, “needle”, “hurt” or “drill”. These tend to turn adults off as well so imagine how much they scare kids.

Some suggested titles include:

  • Tusk Trouble – First Experiences by Jane Clarke and Cecilia Johansson
  • Andrew’s Loose Tooth by Robert Musnch
  • Open Wide by Laurie Keller
  • The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Jan and Stan Berenstain

I’ve heard some other Mum’s talking about “Bottle Mouth”, what is it?

“Bottle Mouth” is the term used to describe the decay caused, usually to the front teeth, by acid that attacks teeth. This starts after prolonged contact with any liquid other than water. As the term suggests, it usually occurs when babies and children are allowed to drink for long periods of time from a bottle. This can happen when they are allowed to go to bed with a bottle etc. However, it is not limited to bottles as breastfed babies who are allowed to suckle for extended periods of time can also develop this decay.

To avoid this decay from developing try following these simple guidelines:

  • Only allow a bottle of milk or formula, or breast, to be used for meal times, and not as a comfort tool at bedtime.
  • Avoid giving juices, soft drinks, or other sugar based drinks from a bottle.
  • Teach your child to drink from a cup or straw as soon as they are ready, usually by about 12months.
  • Maintain good dental practices and brush their teeth regularly.

What foods should I avoid to keep my child’s teeth healthy?

Avoid any foods that are high in sugar, especially those that are held in the mouth for a long time, for example sweets, lollies, candy, toffees and also soft drinks and juices from a bottle with a teat. Chewable Vitamin C tablets have also been identified as particularly bad for healthy teeth.
Some healthy foods such as dried fruit also contain high levels of sugar and children should be encouraged to rinse their mouths after eating these foods.

Can sucking a thumb cause dental problems later in life?

Certainly if thumb sucking occurs past the time when a child has their permanent teeth there is a real possibility that it could lead to your child having an open bite, flared teeth and possible changes to the upper jaw.

What are the basic principles of dental care for children?

The Australian Dental Association suggests these guidelines for maintaining healthy teeth:

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods, especially those rich in calcium and low in acids and sugars.
  • Eat healthy snacks, such as cheese and fruit.
  • Drink plenty of tap water, especially if it is fluoridated.
  • Brush gently and thoroughly, with a toothpaste that is low in fluoride, from age two onwards (to age 7).
  • Use a soft bristled, compact head toothbrush.
  • Brush teeth at least twice a day, after breakfast and just before bedtime is ideal.
  • Visit your Dentist or dental clinic regularly and don’t just wait for a problem to occur.
  • Visits to the Dentist or dental clinic should start when very young or at least by the age of 3.

Our water doesn’t have fluoride in it, should I be giving my child an extra dose?

Fluoride is certainly an important part of maintaining healthy teeth, however before supplementing with fluoride you should talk to your dentist or dental hygienist.

How will I know when my baby is getting teeth?

Some of the tell tale signs that teeth are on there way are:

  • Slightly inflamed, red gums that may have a lump
  • You may be able to see a white tooth bud under the gum
  • An increase in dribbling and biting down on fingers and other objects
  • Irritability and signs of pain.

To relieve this discomfort it is possible to use paracetamol, a non-aspirin based teething gel, and allow your baby to suck/chew on a cold teething ring.

Is there any truth to the stories of illness associated with teething?

Many Mums will report that their baby has suffered from one or all of the following symptoms around the time of teeth erupting from the gums; nappy rash, mild fever, mild diarrhoea, pain and irritability. However, there is no conclusive evidence that these are related to “teething”. You should not assume that teething is the cause of illness and you should seek medical advice.

When will my child be able to brush their teeth on their own?

Generally by the age of 5 your child will be quite adept at brushing their own teeth, however it is recommended that you continue to assist and monitor their brushing until around 7-8 years of age.

What order do baby teeth come through?

Your baby’s teeth will usually, although not always, appear in this order:

  1. The lower incisors
  2. The upper incisors
  3. The upper side teeth
  4. The lower side teeth
  5. The first upper molars (back teeth)
  6. The first lower molars
  7. The upper canines
  8. The lower canines
  9. The lower second molars
  10. The upper second molars

Your child will probably have all his first teeth, also known as baby teeth, milk teeth, deciduous teeth, or primary teeth around two and a half years of age.

Is a visit to the Dentist covered by Medicare

Unfortunately, dental care is not generally covered by Medicare; however you may be able to make a claim through your private health insurance. There is also the Child Dental Benefits Schedule introduced by the Federal Government which provides assistance for visits to the dentist for children.

In NZ, visits to your local dental clinic are free. These clinics are usually in the grounds of primary schools. Older children who are students up to the age of 18 can receive free dental care from a dentist.

For more information see Baby teething or Baby Care