The health of your baby’s mouth may be the last thing on your mind. After all, there are diapers to change and many feedings to think about. While baby’s first tooth is a milestone to remember, now is the time to think about how you will help your baby have a healthy mouth.
You may be familiar with the most common mouth problems to plague little ones, like teething and thrush. However, you may not know that cavities are the most common chronic disease in young children. Cavities can develop as soon as your baby gets their first tooth. Read more about common mouth problems and how to help your baby have a healthy mouth.
Most babies get their first tooth when they are 5-9 months old and have 6-8 teeth by their first birthday. New parents may dread teething, but many babies will sprout teeth with little more than some crankiness and extra drool. And, of course, chewing on everything they can get their hands on. Tips to help your baby get through teething include:
- Give a cold (not frozen) teething ring to chew on. Never tie a teething ring around your baby’s neck because of the risk of strangulation.
- If your baby is uncomfortable, you may be able to give infant acetaminophen. Do not give your child aspirin because it can cause serious illness. Talk to your baby's doctor before using any pain relievers or numbing gels.
- If your baby will let you, massage swollen gums with your clean finger.
Thrush is a mild yeast infection of the mouth. It will look like white patches on your baby’s tongue and inner cheeks. Sometimes it may go away on its own, though usually you will need to give your baby an anti-yeast medication.
A breastfeeding mom with a baby with thrush may notice that their nipples are sore or very pink or that they have a lot of pain when their baby latches on. If you are breastfeeding, you may also need to treat your nipples for a topical yeast infection (not thrush) so that you and your baby do not pass the infection back and forth.
You may think that taking care of baby teeth is not important since they will just fall out anyway, right? But healthy teeth are important, especially for babies. Healthy teeth help your child chew and speak clearly. Your child’s baby teeth hold spaces for the adult or permanent teeth, and they can affect the way your child’s jaw grows. Spots or stains on your child’s teeth can be signs of tooth decay. If you see these on your child’s teeth, schedule a dental exam.
Start these healthy mouth habits now to ward off cavities before they form.
Feeding Baby for a Healthy Mouth
The way you feed your baby can affect the health of their teeth. Follow these guidelines when feeding your baby:
- Never put baby to bed with a bottle. Milk can pool in your baby’s mouth and cause cavities. Drinking from a bottle while lying flat can also cause ear infections.
- For babies aged 1 year and older:
- Limit fruit juice to 4-6 ounces per day.
- Teach your baby to drink from an open cup by the time they are 12 to 15 months old. Do not let your child walk around with a sippy cup unless it has only water in it..
- Give only water or plain milk between meals. Keep in mind that milk has sugar.
- Give lots of fruits and vegetables for snacks. Limit cookies and other sweet treats to special occasions.
Cleaning Baby’s Mouth
You can start caring for your baby’s teeth as soon as those first pearly whites break through the gums. Follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Family Physicians:
- Start to clean your baby’s teeth regularly as soon as they come in. Use an amount of fluoride toothpaste that is about the size of a grain of rice. Progress to an amount that is about the size of a pea by the time your child is 3 years of age. This will reduce the risk of the child swallowing it.
- Clean your child’s teeth twice each day, especially before bed.
- Help your child with tooth brushing until they can do it properly themselves—usually at 7-8 years of age. Try brushing first and then let your child finish up.
Taking Baby to the Dentist
Take your baby to the dentist within 6 months of the first tooth coming in, but do not wait any later than 12 months old. The dentist can help you determine your baby’s risk for developing cavities and give you advice for how to prevent them. Your child’s dentist will:
- Check your baby’s teeth.
- Show you how to clean your baby’s teeth.
- Talk to you about ways to decrease your baby’s risk of cavities, like:
- Limit snacking and drinks between meals, especially sweets.
- Give a fluoride supplement if your home’s water supply is not fluoridated. Contact your water supplier to find out if your water is fluoridated. You can also buy home test kits. Fluoride can protect your child’s teeth from decay and may even help to decrease decay that already exists. It is especially helpful for a child whose teeth are still developing.
The dentist may also treat your child’s teeth with a fluoride solution during the visit.
Good oral health is important for your baby, even before they have any permanent teeth. By starting healthy habits now, you can help your child have a healthy mouth for a lifetime!
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
Dental Hygiene Canada
A healthy mouth for your baby. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at: https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/ToothDecay/AHealthyMouthforYourBaby.htm. Updated September 2016. Accessed August 3, 2017.
American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs. Fluoride toothpaste use for young children. J Am Dent Assoc. 2014 Feb;145(2):190-191.
Dental hygiene: How to care for your baby's teeth. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/dental-hygiene-how-to-care-for-your-babys-teeth. Updated June 2016. Accessed August 3, 2017.
How to prevent tooth decay in your baby. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/teething-tooth-care/Pages/How-to-Prevent-Tooth-Decay-in-Your-Baby.aspx. Updated May 15, 2015. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Is thrush causing my sore nipples? La Leche League International website. Available at: http://www.llli.org/faq/thrush.html. Updated January 9, 2016. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Oral candidiasis in infants. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T435286/Oral-candidiasis-in-infants. Updated June 28, 2016. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Policy on early childhood caries (ECC): classifications, consequences, and preventive strategies. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry website. Available at: http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_ECCClassifications.pdf. Updated 2014. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 2/17/2014