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. But 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 1-2 teeth. Most children have their full set of baby teeth by 3 years of age.
Baby teeth can arrive in any order, although the lower incisors are often first, followed by the upper incisors. The first molars are usually next, followed by the canines and second molars.
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 your baby to your GP, especially if baby 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 toothbrush, dummy or cold but not frozen teething ring
- offering your baby mushier foods, which need less chewing
- giving your baby something firm, like a sugar-free rusk, to suck on.
Teething gels aren’t generally recommended because they probably don’t help to ease pain. They can also have harmful side effects.
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
Dental care for baby teeth can start before your baby’s first tooth appears. Once your baby is about 3 months old, you can gently wipe your baby’s gums using a damp, clean face washer or gauze twice a day. This helps your baby get ready for brushing when the first tooth appears.
As soon as the first tooth appears, clean teeth using a soft infant toothbrush designed for children under 2 years. If your baby doesn’t like the toothbrush in their mouth, you can keep using a clean, damp face washer or gauze to wipe the front and back of each tooth.
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 baby teeth
- Position your baby so you can see their mouth and they feel secure. It might help to sit on a bed or the floor with your baby lying down so that their head is on your lap.
- Cup your baby’s chin in your hands, with their head resting against your body.
- Lift your baby’s lip to clean teeth using soft, circular motions.
- Make sure you spend time on the front and back of each tooth and also the gum line.
You can help your baby feel more comfortable with teeth-cleaning by giving them an infant toothbrush to play with and put in their mouth while they’re in the bath. Just make sure to supervise your baby while they’re playing with their toothbrush. And you can make brushing more fun by singing songs or letting your baby play with a toy.
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.
Give babies only breastmilk or formula until you introduce solids at around 6 months. Breastfed and formula-fed babies older than 6 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 bed with a bottle. When your baby is asleep, there’s less saliva in the mouth to protect teeth. If your baby falls asleep with a bottle, milk might slowly drip into your baby’s mouth and soak teeth. This puts your baby 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, sugar or liquids like honey.
To make sure your baby’s teeth and gums are kept healthy, it’s a good idea for you and baby to see a dentist or an oral health therapist when your baby is around 12 months of age or when the first tooth comes through, whichever happens first.