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Dental care for infants and toddlers

3-minute read

Babies are born with 20 primary (‘baby’) teeth that usually start to come through the gums by the age of 6 months and all teeth have usually appeared by the age of 2 or 3 years. It is important that you care for your child’s teeth from an early age, well before the teeth arrive.

Although your child will lose their baby teeth, they are needed to help guide the permanent teeth into the right place in the jaw when the time comes. So as soon as teeth appear, it is time to start cleaning.

With the appearance of teeth, decay becomes a possibility.

You might be unaware that one of the most serious forms of tooth decay occurs in babies and young children who are given bottles containing sugary drinks such as milk and fresh fruit juice.

If left in contact with the teeth, sugary drinks of any sort will cause decay because the sugar is converted to acid that dissolves the tooth enamel.

Tips on how to prevent tooth decay for your infant and toddler

  • Wipe your baby’s gums with a wet facecloth or a clean gauze pad after each feed. You can brush your baby’s first tooth as soon as it appears with a soft toothbrush and a little water.
  • A pea sized amount of low fluoride toothpaste can be used from the age of 18 months. If a small amount of toothpaste is swallowed by your child this is not a concern. Toddler teeth need cleaning twice a day — in the morning and before bed.
  • Once your child has 2 teeth that touch, usually by age 24 to 30 months, begin using dental floss before brushing.
  • Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquid (which are all sugary).
  • If you use a dummy, make sure that it is clean and do not dip it into sugar-containing liquid.
  • Start taking your child to the dentist 6 months after their first tooth appears or when they reach 12 months of age — whichever comes first.
  • Feed your child a balanced diet from the 5 major food groups — vegetables, fruit, grains, meat and dairy food. Limit snack foods that are high in sugar.
  • Encourage your child to drink water when they are thirsty and limit fruit juice and soft drinks to special occasions.

Start teaching your child healthy dental habits when they are very young. It may prevent dental problems in the future.

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Last reviewed: March 2021

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