By Raising Children Network
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Baby playing with his bell rattle

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Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental care habits for life.
Healthy teeth and gums are vital to children’s general health. Good dental care should start even before those first baby teeth arrive. But how do you clean those tiny gums and teeth?

Baby teeth development

Baby teeth develop while babies are still in the womb. Newborns have a full set of 20 baby teeth hidden in their gums.

Most baby teeth appear between 6 and 10 months. In some children, teeth appear as early as 3 months. In others, they don’t arrive until around 12 months. Children get teeth at different times. A very small number of children are born with 1-2 teeth.

Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the central bottom teeth are often first. All 20 baby teeth will usually arrive by the time your child is three years old.

The 32 adult teeth replace the baby teeth between the ages of 6 and 20 years. You can’t replace these teeth, so you have to look after them.

Diagram of baby teeth and adult teeth positions 


As each baby tooth gets to the surface of the gum, the gum opens up to show the tooth.

Many people think that ‘teething’ babies:

  • cry a lot or seem extra cranky
  • don’t feed as well as usual
  • suck on objects such as toys, dummies and bibs
  • have more dirty nappies more often
  • pull the ear on the same side as the tooth coming through. 

These signs might be caused by teething – or they might just be a normal part of development or a result of minor infections and illnesses.

If your baby isn’t well, it’s always best to take her to the doctor, especially if she has a fever or diarrhoea, or you’re worried about any other symptoms.

Babies sometimes rub their gums together when new teeth are starting to come through the gum. This isn’t usually a problem.

Things to try for teething
If you’re concerned about your baby’s teething, you can try:

  • gently rubbing your baby’s gums with a clean finger – make sure to wash your hands first
  • giving your baby something to bite on, such as a cold (but not frozen) teething ring, toothbrush or dummy
  • cooking mushier foods, which need less chewing
  • giving your baby something firm, like a sugar-free rusk, to suck on.

If your baby still seems unhappy or uncomfortable, it’s time to see your GP or child and family health nurse. Teething might not be the problem.

If your baby likes a dummy, don’t dip it in food and liquids such as honey and sugar. It’s also a good idea to encourage your baby to let go of the dummy after he’s about 12 months old.

Dental care for baby teeth and gums

You can start cleaning and caring for your baby’s gums well before the first tooth appears. A couple of times a day, just wipe her gums gently using a clean, damp face washer or gauze.

As soon as teeth arrive, you can clean them twice a day (in the morning and before bed). Wrap a clean, damp face washer or gauze around your finger and wipe the front and back of each of your baby’s teeth.

If your baby doesn’t mind, you can introduce a small, soft toothbrush designed for children under two years. Use only water on the toothbrush until your baby is 18 months old (unless a dentist tells you to do something else).

Once your child is 18 months old, you can use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush.

Don’t use toothpaste with babies under 18 months of age (unless recommended by your dentist).

The best way to clean your baby’s teeth

  1. Place your baby in a position where you can see his mouth, and he feels secure.
  2. Cup your baby’s chin in your hands, with his head resting against your body.
  3. Clean his teeth using soft, circular motions.
  4. Lift his lips to brush the front and back of the teeth and at the gum line.

Keeping the toothbrush clean
After cleaning your baby’s teeth and gums, rinse the toothbrush with tap water.

Store the toothbrush upright in an open container to allow it to air-dry.

If other family members’ toothbrushes are stored in the same place, make sure the brushes don’t touch. This reduces the risk that decay-causing germs will travel between brushes and into your baby’s mouth. And there’s no sharing when it comes to toothbrushes! One for each family member is best.

You should replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months, or when the bristles get worn or frayed.

Video Dental care for children

This short dental care video shows you how to care for kids’ teeth. It includes advice on encouraging children to drink tap water, brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first ones are through, avoiding sugary drinks, and not taking bottles of milk to bed.
Teeth cleaning alone isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay. Diet and the way you feed your baby are also important. And to make sure your baby’s teeth and gums are healthy, it’s a good idea for her to visit the dentist by the time she’s two years old.
  • Last updated or reviewed 26-10-2015