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It’s a big deal when your baby cuts their first tooth. Not only does it change that little gummy smile forever, it also marks an important milestone in your little one’s development as they move towards learning to speak and eating solid food. Your baby’s first tooth can erupt any time between the age of four months and their first birthday.
You might think that oral hygiene isn’t something you need to worry about until your baby has a full set of gnashers. But, actually, you can start your child’s dental care routine before that first little tooth has even emerged by taking care of their gums from birth.
But if this is your first baby, you may be wondering how exactly you do this and, also, when do you start brushing your baby’s teeth? We have the answers to these questions and more, with tips and advice from Mumsnet parents along with expert comments from dentist Dr Deepak Aulak, co-founder of Toothfairy, an app that allows patients to see a dentist online for a one-off consultation fee, in line with NHS check-up rates.
Read on to find out how to take the best care of your baby’s shiny new teeth and set them up for a lifetime of healthy pearly whites.
Why is it important to brush my baby’s teeth?
There are several important reasons why it’s important to brush your baby’s teeth:
Prevents decay and cavities: Baby teeth are even more vulnerable to cavities than adult teeth and milk contains naturally occurring sugar that can damage them. Regular tooth brushing helps to remove plaque and bacteria that cause decay.
Starts good dental habits early: It makes sense to start as you mean to go on when your baby’s first teeth are sparkling new and you can set a healthy dental care routine in place, helping to reduce your child's risk of tooth decay as they grow.
Promotes good speech and eating habits: Milk teeth help children to speak and eat - losing them prematurely can lead to speech development issues and poor diet.
Lessens the chance of crooked adult teeth: Baby teeth play an important role as place markers, guiding the permanent adult teeth into position when they emerge in a few years so it’s important that they stay healthy in order to safeguard your child’s long term dental health.
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When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?
You don’t need to wait until your baby has all their teeth - or even any at all! You can start their oral health routine early by cleaning their gums before they have any teeth. Use a soft, gauze pad or finger toothbrush to gently clean and massage the gums after each feed. This helps your baby to get used to the feeling of teeth brushing.
“As soon as you can feel baby teeth coming through, you can begin to use toothbrushes to acclimatise your child to what a brush looks like,” says dentist Dr Deepak Aulak.
Introduce your baby to toothbrushing by giving them a baby-safe toothbrush to chew. Once your baby is happy and comfortable with the feel of a toothbrush in their mouth, progress to brushing. All you need is a soft baby toothbrush dabbed with a tiny smear of baby-safe fluoride toothpaste on it to get started.
How long and often should I brush my baby’s teeth each day?
In the very early days, as your baby’s teeth are erupting, there won’t be much to brush and you only need to brush for between five to 10 seconds at a time. As your child becomes more accustomed to having a toothbrush in their mouth, gradually build up to brushing your child's teeth more thoroughly until you’re brushing for at least two minutes, covering all the surfaces of the teeth.
Aim to brush your baby’s teeth at least twice a day, including once before bed. As dentist Dr Deepak Aulak advises, “Your child’s teeth should be brushed for at least two minutes, morning and night. Drinking water can also neuralise any sugars or foods that are remaining on the teeth.”
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Top tooth brushing tips for babies
1. Before your baby’s teeth erupt, take care of their gums
Use a soft, damp cloth or a finger brush to wipe their gums and remove bacteria. Dentist Dr Deepak Aulak says, “Small bumps - showcasing teeth coming through - can be massaged to help a child that is experiencing eruption discomfort.”
2. Introduce your baby to the idea of a toothbrush
Get your baby used to the idea and feel of having a toothbrush in their mouth by giving them a baby toothbrush to chew.
“I just let them chomp on a toothbrush when they're small,” says Mumsnet user, Chelyanne
Dr Deepak Aulak advises, “Put a small clean cloth on your finger and permitting your baby to suck on it can replicate the action of a brush.”
3. Once your baby’s teeth begin appearing, make gentle circles using a damp brush
Use a damp brush to make gentle circles on all surfaces of the teeth and along the gum line.
You can use a rice-sized smear of toothpaste. Your baby won’t be able to spit out the toothpaste yet so help them angle their mouth downward so the toothpaste dribbles out into the sink or onto a cloth. Once they learn how to spit, encourage them to do this after brushing.
4. Brush your baby's teeth twice a day
One of the two times a day that you brush your baby’s teeth should be after their last meal and before bed to avoid food or milk sitting in their mouth overnight and increasing the risk of decay and cavities.
What should I do if my baby hates having their teeth brushed?
It’s not uncommon for babies to cry or get upset when they have their teeth brushed to start with. It may feel strange and uncomfortable for them and they may squirm, try to push you away or clamp their gums over their toothbrush… or all three at once!
Take a step back: If your little one is distressed, take a step back for a day or so. But do persevere and you will gradually get your baby accustomed to brushing their teeth as part of their daily routine.
Mumsnet user 00100001 says, “Just keep going. You don't have to brush their teeth perfectly twice every single day. Get [them] used to the fact that it will be happening twice a day, every day, [and they’ll soon] get over the clamping.”
Set a good example and minimise fear: Brush your teeth in front of your baby and show them that it’s a normal part of daily life.
Mumset user INeedNewShoes says, “My main advice would be that once baby does let you put the toothbrush in, make sure you just do a very quick brush (a few seconds) and then stop there. Once there have been a few days of positive very short brushings, you can start upping the time.”
Have a distraction ready: Some parents swear by distraction during toothbrushing to help relax and reassure your baby.
Mumsnet user ChillyB advises, “Try the Hey Duggee toothbrush song on YouTube or the wiggles tooth brushing app. Both worked to get DS brushing his teeth again.”
Try different toothpaste flavours: You may also find that experimenting with different toothpaste flavours helps, as not all children like the taste of mint. Your child might prefer a fruity flavour or even a flavourless toothpaste, such as OraNurse, designed for children who are sensitive to certain flavours.
Mumsnet user LonnyVonnyWilsonFrickett advises: “I would try different toothpaste flavours. It may be a sensory issue related to taste or foam - my DS uses an unflavoured toothpaste called OraNurse.”
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How do I choose the right baby toothbrush?
With milk teeth even more susceptible to decay than adult teeth, it’s important to get the right toothbrush for the job.
Children’s toothbrushes come in all sizes. Needless to say, you’re looking at the tiniest end of the scale when buying your baby’s first toothbrush.
“Choose something soft. The key is to ensure good cleaning without causing trauma,” says dentist Dr Deepak Aulak. “Your baby's favourite cartoon character could be an added plus!”
Here are some things to look for when choosing an infant toothbrush:
Soft bristles that won’t cause harm to your baby’s sensitive gums and baby teeth
A small head, capable of reaching all around inside your baby’s mouth and cleaning every surface of every tooth
A big easy-to-grip handle
Mumsnetters’ favourite first toothbrush for babies is the Baby Banana Teething Toothbrush, suitable from three months. Designed by a dental hygienist and mum of four, this ingenious flexible silicon toothbrush has easy-to-hold handles that are easy for little hands to grasp and prevent the toothbrush from going too far into the mouth.
If you’re on a budget, the Colgate Kids' Extra Soft Toothbrush comes recommended by experts and parents and costs only £1.
Fussy babies who don’t enjoy the feel of a toothbrush in their mouth might take to a silicone finger toothbrush, such as Baby Buddy Finger Toothbrush, instead. It fits neatly onto a parent’s index finger and can be used to gently brush new teeth and soothe tender gums.
What Mumsnet users say
“Before I was using regular kids’ toothbrushes. But I picked up a silicone baby toothbrush… and it seems to have done the trick. I think [my daughter] enjoys chewing on this one because it feels like a teething toy and she actually lets me brush 8/10 times so hooray!” - Mumsnet user Tee20x
“[I use a] little electric baby toothbrush. Both kids love them. Although the other electric toothbrushes seem to be three plus, my dentist said there's no issue with little ones using them. We have moved on to a three plus one with my 19-month-old.” - Mumsnet user Opalfeet
“You can get toothbrushes for babies which are like little silicone glove fingers with bristles attached. You put one on your finger and use that to brush their teeth. A bit faddy but good for babies!” - Mumsnet user QueenOfTheAndals
Can babies use fluoride toothpaste?
Babies whose teeth have not yet emerged don’t need fluoride toothpaste. However, if your baby’s teeth have come in, the NHS advises using a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste, the size of a grain of rice for babies and children up to the age of three. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in water and some foods which helps protect tooth enamel against acid attacks, which can cause decay and cavities.
Children’s toothpaste contains less fluoride to prevent them from swallowing and ingesting too much when they’re still learning how to spit. Ingesting too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis - the appearance of little white spots or discolourations on their teeth.
The NHS advises that baby toothpaste should have a minimum of 1,000ppm (parts per million) of fluoride, while a family toothpaste should have between 1,350ppm and 1,5000ppm.
“As babies cannot control what they are eating, a smear of toothpaste is all that is needed, unlike an adult pea size amount,” says dentist Dr Deepak Aulak. “Children under three years old should brush twice daily with a smear of toothpaste containing at least 1,000ppm fluoride.”
According to Mumsnet parents, the best baby toothpastes are Aquafresh Milk Teeth, which has a mild and minty flavour, apple-flavoured Brush-Baby Teething Toothpaste for babies under the age of one and flavourless OraNurse, which is free from the foaming agent SLS. Containing 1,000ppm of fluoride, the toothpaste is suitable up to the age of three when they can then move onto OraNurse’s 1,450ppm toothpaste.
If you’re concerned about fluorosis, you might prefer to use a fluoride-free version such as Mumsnetters’ favourite Green People Organic Children Toothpaste, which has added vitamin C for protecting young gums and comes in two flavours, spearmint and aloe vera or mandarin and aloe vera.
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When should I start taking my baby to the dentist?
It’s generally recommended that a child is seen by a dentist by the age of one or within six months of their first tooth erupting. Not much needs to happen in the early days aside from a quick look to check that your baby’s mouth and teeth look healthy.
Acclimatising your baby to the dentist is very important,” says dentist Dr Deepak Aulak. “I recommend my patients bring their babies with them, to sit in the chair and see and hear the dental clinic, which helps them familiarise the place for the future visits. My pro tip is to let your children watch ‘Peppa Pig goes to the dentist’ for an even better experience.”
The NHS also advises taking your baby along with you to your own dental appointments to see how it all works - and so do Mumsnetters. “They just had a turn at sitting in the chair at one of my appointments. The dentist barely looked at their teeth, it was just to get them used to it,” says Mumsnet user SongsForHappyDays, talking about her own babies’ first experiences at the dentist.
Mumsnet user OhhhhhhhhBiscuits says, “[My child] came with me [at six months old] when I had a check up and the dentist got her used to sitting on my lap in the chair, looking in her mouth etc. It obviously wasn't a proper check up, but more to get used to the sights and sounds of the dentist. She is now six and has no issues or fears at the dentist at all.”
It’s worth noting that while NHS dental treatment is free for children, not all dentists will take on new NHS patients.
About the author
Louise Baty has been a journalist for 20 years and has two children, aged 11 and seven. She has written four parenting books, along with countless parenting features and advice guides for both print and online media, including Mumsnet. When writing parenting guides, she often consults and interviews parenting specialists who offer expert advice.
Having cared for two newborns in the not too distant past, she remembers all too well how perplexing and all-consuming the early days of parenting can be. She’s keen to help make life easier for new parents through accessible, easy to follow online advice.