Although your baby’s first teeth start to form in the womb, they don’t usually appear until between 6 and 10 months of age. Dental care starts well before those first baby teeth arrive.
Baby teeth development
Babies are born with a full set of 20 baby teeth hidden in their gums – 10 up the top and 10 down the bottom. As each baby tooth gets to the surface of the gum, the gum opens up to show the tooth.
Most first teeth appear between 6 and 10 months, but children get teeth at different times. In some children, teeth appear as early as 3 months. In others, they don’t arrive until around 12 months.
A very small number of children are born with one or two teeth. If this happens with your child, see a dentist. The dentist can check whether the teeth are loose and let you know the best thing to do.
Most children will have their full set of baby teeth by three years of age.
Dental care for baby teeth and gums
Dental care for baby teeth starts before the first tooth appears. You can clean your baby’s gums and tongue using water and a clean face washer.
As soon as the first tooth appears (usually around 6-10 months), use a wet face washer, gauze or soft infant toothbrush designed for children under two years. Brush with water only at least twice a day, particularly after the first and last feeds.
Preventing early tooth decay
Baby teeth are at risk of decay as soon as they come through. The fight against tooth decay starts early with a couple of simple precautions.
Babies aged 0-6 months need only breastmilk or formula. When your baby is old enough to drink something other than milk, water is the best option. Drinks with sugar in them cause tooth decay.
Don’t put your baby to sleep with a bottle. Milk is quite high in sugar. Soaking your baby’s teeth in it while she’s sleeping can cause tooth decay. During sleep there’s also less saliva in your baby’s mouth to clean her teeth and gums. Also note that bottle-feeding in bed is a choking risk. Babies who fall asleep while bottle-feeding can draw liquid into their lungs.
If your baby likes a dummy, don’t dip it into food or liquids such as honey or sugar. And don’t clean your baby’s dummy in your mouth, because you can pass on germs that cause tooth decay.
Video Caring for your baby's teeth
This short video demonstrates how to care for children’s teeth. It includes advice on encouraging children to drink tap water, brushing children’s teeth as soon as the first ones are through and avoiding sugary drinks. Parents also talk about how important it is to avoid giving your child a bottle of milk in bed.