Once babies are born it’s very, very important to make sure that you begin wiping their mouth and their gums with a nice clean towel, like a baby wash cloth, that’s soft and easy to get wet. It’s always great to wipe babies’ mouths for two things that are happening there. First, you are cleaning the mouth and on top of that, they are already used to something going in their mouth. So when babies start getting baby teeth and we need to start introducing a toothbrush, they are already used to mommy or daddy having their hands in their mouth.

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It’s also important that babies see a dentist by their first birthday. If you notice a problem or you have concerns with your baby’s teeth or mouth, then you obviously need to see a dentist prior to that time. But by the first birthday, it’s time to get your baby a dentist for a good evaluation.

Once you see the first baby tooth, you can introduce a toothbrush. You aren’t doing a lot, but you are introducing that feel of the bristles in the mouth so that as the baby gets more teeth and develops more teeth, they are used to the toothbrush in their mouth. Make sure you are using a soft bristled tooth and an age appropriate toothbrush. As your child has more teeth, make sure a routine of brushing is established.

My good rule of thumb is the rule of twos. You are going to brush your children’s teeth twice a day for two minutes. When they have one tooth it may not need two minutes for that, but when they get all of their baby teeth, which should be about 20 baby teeth, you would want to take a full two minutes to brush their teeth twice a day. Every morning and every night.

As far as toothpaste, the most common asked question is when you should start introducing toothpaste for a child. There are beginner, infant toothpastes that are training toothpastes that really aren’t what we think of as adult toothpastes. It’s really a gel that doesn’t have a lot in it, there’s definitely no fluoride, so there’s no problem if the baby swallows it. But it introduces that feel of something being on the toothbrush so by the time the baby turns 2 years of age, you are ready to introduce a children’s toothpaste that has fluoride in it.

Please make sure you not using an adult toothpaste for a child. For adults, it tastes nice and minty fresh. To children, it’s hot and it’s spicy and they are not going to want to brush with that. As far as how much toothpaste, it should be pea size or a nice little smear across the bristles of the brush. That is plenty of toothpaste for children to use for brushing their teeth.

You want to introduce flossing when your child’s teeth are very close together. If your child’s teeth are up against each other, really, really tight or even their baby teeth are crowded, then you really want to start introducing some flossing at an early age. If those teeth are close together, the toothbrush can’t get in between them. Flossing is the only thing that can.

Please encourage and really introduce brushing to your child because the earlier they start brushing or flossing, the more prone they are to have that as a habit. They will be used to brushing their teeth this many times a day. They are used to that as their routine. Encourage your children to start learning to brush on their own as a toddler

However parents should always supervise and help their children brush their teeth until they are about 8, 9 or 10 years old, depending on the child’s development.

Tonya Fuqua, DDS, is the manager for the Save a Smile program, led by Cook Children’s.

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