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.

For most babies, teeth begin to appear between 6 and 10 months. In some children, teeth appear as early as three 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.

Baby teeth diagram

Adult teeth diagram

Teething

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

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

Many people think that ‘teething’ babies also:

  • cry a lot or seem extra cranky
  • don’t feed as well as usual
  • suck on objects like 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 your GP, especially if she has a fever or diarrhoea, or you’re worried about any other symptoms.

Teething: things to try

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, like 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.

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 his 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. Use a small, soft toothbrush designed for children under two years. If your baby doesn’t like the toothbrush in her mouth, keep using the face washer or gauze to wipe the front and back of each of your baby’s teeth.

Use only water on the toothbrush until your baby is 18 months old, unless a dentist tells you to do something else.

Cleaning and caring for children’s teeth early on sets up good dental care habits for life.

The best way to clean your baby’s teeth

  1. Position your baby so you can see his mouth, and he feels secure. It might help to sit on a bed or the floor with your baby lying down so that his head is on your lap.
  2. Cup your baby’s chin in your hands, with her head resting against your body.
  3. Lift your baby’s lip to clean his teeth using soft, circular motions.
  4. Make sure you spend time on the front and back of each tooth and also the gum line.

If your baby doesn’t like having her teeth brushed, you could try make brushing more fun by singing songs or letting your baby play with a toy. Even a quick attempt at brushing is better than nothing, so your child starts to learn that brushing is a normal part of her daily routine.

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.

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

Preventing early tooth decay

Teeth cleaning alone isn’t a guarantee against tooth decay. Diet and the way you feed your baby are also important.

Babies aged 0-6 months need only breastmilk or formula. Breastfed and formula-fed babies older than six months can also have small amounts of water. Avoid giving your baby sugary drinks. Once you introduce solids, also avoid giving your baby foods high in sugar.

Don’t put your baby to sleep with a bottle. When your baby is asleep, there’s less saliva in his mouth to protect his teeth. If your baby falls asleep with a bottle, formula or milk might slowly drip into your baby’s mouth and soak his teeth. This puts him at risk of tooth decay. Also note that putting your baby to sleep with a bottle is a choking risk.

If your baby likes a dummy, don’t dip it in food and liquids like honey and sugar.

To make sure your baby’s teeth and gums are healthy, it’s a good idea for her to see the dentist when she’s about 12 months old or when her first tooth comes through, whichever happens first.