How to care for your child’s teeth

Dental care starts with the parents

Parental dental hygiene has been linked to the health of their kids’ teeth. By sharing food and kisses, parents will pass the bacteria in their mouth to their babies. Some bacteria can be more harmful, especially if they tend to cause cavities or if they are already causing cavities in the parents’ or caregiver’s mouth. This risk of sharing cavity-causing bacteria can be decreased if the parents take good care of their own teeth by seeing their dentist twice a year, using toothpaste with fluoride to brush their teeth, flossing, and avoid sugary, sticky foods and drinks. I am a big fan for parents to exercise self care, because dental care is case in point of how it can lead to better health for the kids!

{Dental hygiene products for parents!}

Toothbrushes with firm bristles,
brush in circular motion

Fluoride containing toothpaste

Floss, because
brushing alone
misses about 1/3
of tooth surfaces

This toothbrush holder,
because bonus points
when the space is organized!
Health for the teeth and zen
for the countertops!

Dental care for babies!

At 4-6 months, parents can start wiping their children’s gums with a wet wash cloth twice a day. Parents may also purchase a plastic brush that fits over their finger or often seen in the shape of a banana, but it’s not necessary. There is no need for “trainer” or fluoride free toothpaste. This is a waste of money and yet another gimmick to benefit from parents’ willingness to buy “baby” products – see this post on how to save money!

At 6 months old, a baby can start to practice drinking water in a sippy cup, but at no age, should a baby, toddler, kid, or teen, drink juice on a regular basis. Avoiding sugary drinks protect their teeth from cavities. Even for older kids, I suggest reserving juice, ice tea, soda, and flavored milk for special occasions such as birthday parties, outings, travel, or illness where the child is not as interested in drinking water. Generally, avoid anything sticky and sweet, such as gummy fruit snacks and raisins. Offer and model eating fresh fruits and drinking water as much as possible.

Guide to brushing and flossing for kids

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When the baby turns 12 months old, the parent can start brushing the baby’s teeth (if there are any, occasionally there may be none at this age) using a child’s toothbrush (nothing fancy, the ones shown here are a 4 pack from Target for $2-3), and apply a smear of toothpaste WITH fluoride. There is no need to rinse the mouth yet. The fluoride will the recirculate in the saliva to protect the teeth. Brush teeth twice a day.

At 2 years old, the toddler can advance to a rice grain size toothpaste, still no need to rinse out the mouth. At 3 years old, increase the size of the toothpaste – about 2 rice grains. And, at 4 years old, increase the toothpaste amount to about the size of a pea, and now the child can swish and spit.

There is no precise science behind this. And to be honest, while I prefer that my kids follow this, my two year swishes and spits because her older sister does that, and I’m not worrying about it.

{Dental products for kids!}

Have fun with the
toothbrushes, but
change them out every
3-4 months. Have extra
toothbrushes on hand in
case anyone gets strep
(not common in kids under
3 years old).Choose a toothpaste with fluoride to
protect the teeth against cavities!
Flossing is important
for kids especially
once the teeth grow
closer together. These
floss sticks help are
easy to use, colorful,
and have a pleasant taste.
The American Dental Assoc
recommends flossing once
a day. Realistically, I
floss my kids’ teeth about
1-2 times per week. Just
being honest because after
all, this blog is about the
imperfections of parenting
inspired by evidence-based

Bear design

Frog design

Fun, low cost accessories
that are functional are here
to save the day! Might be
enough make brushing teeth
a more enjoyable activity,
and also teach kids
responsibility to put their
items back in place.

When to see the dentist

Professional dental care starts at 12 months of age. I encourage parents to starting taking their 9-15 month olds to the dentist for a “social” visit, tagging along with parents, siblings, or cousins to go to the dentist. Let the babies sit in the chair, get used to the smell of the office, get a sticker from the receptionist, and make a few stress-free and happy memories prior to their own dental visit. At the first few dental appointments, the child will have their teeth counted while laying on and held by the parent who is sitting in the dental chair. Starting at about 18-24 months of age, the dentist will start to apply fluoride treatments (applicator looks like a q-tip and takes about 5 seconds). Our dentist has additional flavors of toothpaste for kids to choose from when cleaning with the electric brush (my daughter’s favorite part of the appointment) and also flosses their teeth. I’ve heard that some dental offices are really kid-friendly and bribe their little patients with sunglasses. At all visits, the parents should be allowed back into the rooms with the kids. Also, x-rays are not necessary at a routine dental visit in a child with no disease, until about adolescence. Preventive dental visits are recommended every 6 months.

Check out more advice on dental health for kids from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association (this ADA website includes some nice coloring pages for kids too)!

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This is not medical advice. Consult your child’s doctor for proper guidance and recommendations that fit your child’s specific needs.