Why are primary teeth important?
The first primary (or “baby”) tooth can come as early as 3 months or as late as 12 months
- Primary teeth give shape to your child’s face, help guide permanent teeth into the right position and are crucial for learning to eat and to speak. It’s important to care for them well.
- Primary teeth have a thinner outer enamel (a thin, hard, white substance that covers the tooth) than permanent teeth. This puts them at risk for early childhood tooth decay, which can begin even before the first tooth appears. Decay is caused by bacteria and happens more easily if teeth keep coming into contact with sweet liquids—such as formula, milk, juice, and even breast milk (which contains sugar)—and are not cleaned regularly.
- Early childhood tooth decay can affect your child’s health and cause pain, making it hard for her to sleep, eat or speak. It can also affect her ability to concentrate and learn. Children who develop dental decay at an early age are more likely to suffer from it throughout childhood.
Tips for good oral health from birth to age four
From birth to 12 months
- Wipe your baby’s gums with a soft, clean, damp cloth twice a day.
- As soon as the first teeth appear, clean them at least once a day (usually at bedtime) with a soft bristle toothbrush designed for babies. Lay your baby on a flat surface or with his head cradled in your lap to brush teeth.
- After 6 months:
- Introduce a sippy cup.
- Avoid juice. If you do offer it, limit juice to no more than 125 to 175 mL.
- If you breastfeed before naptime, be sure to clean your child’s teeth before he goes to sleep.
- Never sweeten a soother.
From 1 to 2 years
- Take your child for a first dental visit at 12 months.
- Brush your child’s teeth daily (using non-fluoridated toothpaste).
- Check for signs of early childhood tooth decay once a month. Lift your child’s upper lip and look for chalky-white or brown spots on the teeth or along the gum line. If you see any, take your child to a dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist may suggest you start using a small amount (the size of a grain of rice) of fluoridated toothpaste.
- Switch to a regular cup for all drinks between 12 and 15 months.
- Limit soother use to nap and bedtime.
From 3 to 4 years old
- Teach your child “2 for 2,” which means brushing twice a day for 2 minutes each time.
- Start using fluoride toothpaste, the amount of a green pea, and teach her to spit rather than swallow. Supervise your child while he/she is brushing teeth.
- Encourage her to do some brushing with you completing the job, making sure that all tooth surfaces have been cleaned.
- Be a role model by brushing your teeth at the same time.
- If your child continues to suck her thumb as permanent teeth begin to appear, talk to your doctor or dentist.
For all ages
- Wash your hands before and after brushing teeth.
- Rinse toothbrushes thoroughly after brushing and ensure that each one can dry without touching others.
- Replace toothbrushes every few months, when the bristles become flattened with use.
- Between meals, quench a child’s thirst with water. Do not offer candy, dried fruit (including raisins) and sugared drinks or juices.
- Take your child for regular dental visits (every 6 months, unless otherwise suggested by your dentist).
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