A baby’s 20 primary teeth start to appear between six months and one year of age, but they are present in the jaw from birth. By age three, most children have grown in their full set of teeth but brushing and flossing should start long before then.

According to a new poll from the University of Michigan, 1 in 6 parents who don’t receive guidance from a health care provider believe that children should delay dentist visits until four years of age — sometimes even older. Many parents also believe that their child’s primary teeth aren’t as important as their permanent teeth because they eventually fall out.

These common misconceptions about caring for baby teeth are the reason many children face tooth decay at such a young age. Over the last few years, dental recommendations for infants have changed as we learn more about baby teeth and how sensitive they really are.

Baby teeth play a much bigger role in a child’s overall growth and development than most people think. Baby teeth are important for eating, speech, and appearance, but they also help guide permanent teeth into place. Baby teeth that aren’t properly cared for can spread decay to the new teeth during this process.

Now the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your baby’s teeth and gums with a tiny smear of fluoridated toothpaste two times a day as soon as the first tooth appears. Using toothpaste with fluoride can protect your child’s teeth from bacteria and acid but it’s important to use the right amount.

The following facts about baby teeth are important to know for new parents, grandparents, or anyone out there lucky enough to be hanging out with an infant.

How much toothpaste should you use?

Infants are the most vulnerable to fluoride toxicity so when it comes to baby teeth, using a small dab of toothpaste is crucial. The recommended toothpaste usage amounts are as follows:

• Babies and toddlers 3 years of age and younger should use a rice-sized smear of toothpaste when brushing.
• Children and adults 3 years and older should brush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.

Once your child knows how to spit properly without swallowing toothpaste, all they will need on the brush is a pea-sized dab. Start building oral hygiene habits into every day — the earlier, the better. As a guardian, it’s your responsibility to set good examples of daily brushing and flossing.

Don’t be afraid to use tap water.

Use tap water when brushing twice a day and after they’ve brushed, do not rinse with water. The tiny amount of fluoride from the toothpaste should sit on the teeth as long as possible to help prevent decay. You should also serve tap water to your baby when serving drinking water.

How long should I brush my baby’s teeth?

The main goal when brushing your child’s teeth is to brush at the gum line on all sides of every tooth, paying special attention to the molars, a common hotspot for bacteria build-up. In most infants and toddlers, the teeth and tongue can be brushed in about a minute. By three years of age, this brushing time should be bumped up to two minutes.

Decay-causing bacteria transfers easily.

The enamel on primary teeth is thinner than permanent (secondary) teeth so keeping them healthy can be challenging. Unfortunately, parents, siblings, and older friends can transfer oral bacteria to babies when we kiss them, drink from the same cup, clean their pacifiers, or share utensils with them.

Anyone with a significant history of dental decay should think twice before sharing anything with a baby that has been in their own mouth. Regular trips to the dentist can assure that your mouth is in tip-top condition to avoid any bacteria transfer when giving kisses on the mouth or sharing utensils.

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Seems to us that the best way to take care of your baby’s teeth is to look after your own. Part of this duty includes encouraging every family member to see the dentist twice a year. Children should have their first oral exam done as soon as their first tooth erupts or by their first birthday.

The ADA recommends that children aged three and older brush their teeth twice a day and floss once a day. Infants should have their teeth brushed at least once a day with water and a soft bristled toothbrush.

Encouraging a healthy diet, monitoring their food and drink intake, and brushing the teeth or wiping down their gums after meals can also protect your children from oral bacteria. Babies should finish drinking a bottle before lying down for bed so their teeth can be cleaned before sleep. This practice is even more important after the last evening feeding.

Even if there isn’t a problem, your child should go for his or her first dentist visit by the time they are one year old. The dentist can give you advice about baby tooth care, teething, fluoride, thumb sucking, and eventually, how to prepare for permanent teeth.

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