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. It is great to start early so your child will come to accept teeth cleaning as a usual part of your daily routine.

How should I clean their teeth or gums?

Start with a soft moist cloth and gently rub this over the gums. Begin cleaning your baby’s first teeth as soon as they appear with a small, soft bristled 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. This can help your child accept you brushing their teeth for them.

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?

Plunket recommends that all children in New Zealand should use a toothpaste containing flouride from a young age. It is recommended that you use a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste.Teach your baby to spit the toothpaste out, rather than swallowing when brushing her teeth and don’t let your baby eat toothpaste.

When should I first visit the Dentist with my child?

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.

It’s recommended that all kiwi children are enrolled at their local school dental clinic at the age of one year. It is a free service. You can contact your local Plunket nurse for assisitance in accessing this service or call 0800 825 583.

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. Help your child practice opening their mouth wide and allowing you to look in their mouth. 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 12 months.
  • 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 is prolonged beyond the baby years 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?

Colgate, Plunket, the New Zealand Dental Association and the Ministry of Health suggests that to ensure your child has the best chance of staying decay free, follow these tips:

  1. Follow a nutritious diet and ensure your own teeth and gums are clean and healthy during pregnancy and beyond
  2. Avoid prolonged or frequent suckling beyond nutritional needs
  3. Avoid putting a child to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water
  4. Avoid placing flavoured milk, fruit juices, fruit drinks, vitamin C supplements, soft drinks or cordials in baby bottles. These drinks should only be offered in a cup.
  5. Avoid dipping a child’s dummy in any foods or liquids
  6. Begin cleaning a child’s teeth as soon as the teeth appear in the mouth. Start a twice daily tooth brushing routine as soon as possible
  7. Regularly check for early signs of tooth decay in your child’s mouth, by lifting the top lip, and asking your child to open their mouth
  8. Visit your dental professional for a check-up around the time of your child’s first birthday

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. Encourage your child to brush their teeth first and then finish the job for them to ensure they are well cleaned. Children often do not have the coordination to clean right to the back or on the insides of their teeth.

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 free?

In NZ, the child oral health service is free. Services are provided from a range of community and mobile clinics. Call 0800 825 583 to enrol your child and find out where your local service is located. 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