how to take care of baby teeth

Baby Teeth: A Guide for First-Time Parents

February 1, 2022

Originally published July 2019. Updated February 2022.

First-time parents, beware: dental care for children, especially young children, is not for the faint of heart. (Try convincing a three-year-old to let you brush all twenty of his baby teeth — you’ll see.)

But despite the obvious challenges, your child’s dental health is just as important in the early years as it is later in life. A strong set of baby teeth not only helps your child chew and speak, but it sets the stage for healthy teeth into adolescence and adulthood.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at how to care for your child’s oral health starting from infancy, why regular trips to the dentist are crucial, and why it’s important to establish a solid dental care routine for your child at home.

Ready to get your little one started down the path to great oral health? Use our ‘Find a Dentist’ tool to find a pediatric dentist that’s right for you!

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When do baby teeth come in?

Babies are born with their full set of teeth just under the gums, and most infants get their first tooth between six and twelve months. The incisors — the front two teeth on the top and bottom — usually appear first. For most children, a full set of baby teeth grows in by age three.

When the first tooth appears, some infants can have sore or tender gums. Some signs of teething may include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fussiness/irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling more than usual

To help sooth your child during the teething phase, it can be helpful to give them a teething ring or toy to chew on, as well as gently rubbing your baby’s gums with a clean finger, a cool spoon, or a wet gauze.

After their first pearly white pops in, and no later than your baby’s first birthday, the American Dental Association also recommends taking your baby to a pediatric dentist. Your child’s dentist will likely check their jaw, teeth, and gums to ensure they’re properly developing; clean your child’s teeth; and give you info and guidance on how to take care of your child’s teeth and gums at home.

Don't be surprised if it takes a while for that toothless grin to fill in. Permanent teeth sometimes take a year to fully erupt.

When do kids lose their teeth?

When it comes to losing teeth, your child’s mouth operates on the general principle of first in, first out. Most children lose their incisors between six and eight years old. (Hence why first and second-grade class pictures are riddled with toothless smiles.)

Canine and molar teeth hold out a little longer, falling out between the age of nine and twelve.

Why is it important to take my child to the dentist if they all eventually fall out?

Proper pediatric dental care and having healthy teeth are critical to your child’s health and development — and the health of baby teeth can directly impact the health of permanent teeth later in life.

One reason it’s important to take your child to the dentist is because of the risk for cavities. Cavities can occur at any age — even in infant teeth — and are not painful for your child but can develop into dental infections and tooth decay (sometimes spreading to the permanent adult teeth developing just underneath). Losing baby teeth too early can also cause permanent teeth (also called primary teeth) to grow in crooked when they drift into the empty spaces left behind.

Healthy baby teeth are also important because they help your child chew properly and maintain good nutrition, as well as aid in speech development. Taking your child to a dentist can help ensure your child’s teeth are growing in correctly and allows for proactive treatment should any issues come up.

By going to the dentist early, you’re helping your child develop healthy habits. Pediatric dental clinics can be a great choice to start off with, as they’re designed to be kid-friendly and fun and can take any stress or fear out the appointments (and help your child develop positive associations with dentists).

How should I care for my child’s teeth?

A home dental care routine for your child centers around regular brushing and flossing, and it starts earlier than you might think.

  • Babies with no teeth: Those gummy smiles still need care, too, and it’s important to clean your baby’s mouth even before their first teeth come in. Cavity-causing bacteria affect a baby’s teeth from the day they first poke through the gums, but it is sometimes difficult to tell when new teeth start pushing through. Because of this, get in the habit of wiping your child’s toothless gums with a clean, damp cloth at least once each day.
  • Until age three: When your child’s first teeth start to come in, it’s time to up the ante on dental health and start brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. For children under three years old, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using a smear of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice.
  • Ages three to seven: Until age seven, children don’t have the dexterity — or, let’s face it, the patience — to brush their own teeth well. Help your child brush their teeth with a pea-sized dollop of fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. By age three or so, most children want to “help” with brushing. This is good practice and helps children develop solid dental health habits. But after your child attempts their version of brushing, make sure to go over their teeth once as well. Around the age of three, your child also starts flossing. Most dentists recommend a child begin flossing daily once teeth start to touch.
  • Age seven and up: By age seven, most children are ready to take dental care into their own hands by brushing and flossing independently. That being said, it is a good idea for parents to monitor brushing and flossing for a few more years. Consider using a timer to help your child brush for a full two minutes and check in to make sure they don’t neglect the hard-to-reach areas of her mouth.

Is fluoride important for children's dental health?

Around 75% of homes in the US already have fluoridated water, and studies suggest fluoride in drinking water is a major part of pediatric dental health. In fact, fluoridated water reduces cavities by at least 25% according to the CDC.

The ADA does discourage children under six from using mouthwash with fluoride, because it contains a greater level of fluoride than the amount in tap water. Before six years of age, children don’t have a fully developed swallowing reflex and just aren’t reliable at the whole rinse-and-spit routine.

Most children do not need additional fluoride other than what is found in toothpaste, drinking water, and topical treatments at the dentist. However, if you live in an area without fluoridated water and your child is at a high risk for cavities, your dentist might prescribe fluoride supplements.

As with anything related to your child’s dental care, your dentist is the best resource for information about your specific needs.

Ready to get your little one started down the path to great oral health? Use our ‘Find a Dentist’ tool to find a pediatric dentist that’s right for you!

Find A Dentist