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How Do I Care for My Baby's Teeth?

My 5-month-old daughter is teething, but she hasn't gotten her first tooth yet. How should I care for her teeth when they come in?
- Nicole

Proper dental care begins before your daughter's first tooth appears. Each day, run a clean, damp washcloth over her gums to clear away harmful bacteria.

Once her teeth begin to come in, follow these tips:

  • Brush teeth with an infant toothbrush. Use water and a tiny bit of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). Use fluoride toothpaste that carries the American Dental Association's seal of acceptance. (If you are using baby toothpaste without the fluoride, keep it to the same amount because you still want to minimize any toothpaste that is swallowed.)
  • Once your baby's teeth touch, you can begin flossing in between them.
  • Around age 2, start teaching your daughter to spit while brushing. Avoid giving water to swish and spit because this may increase the chance of accidentally swallowing toothpaste.
  • Kids ages 3 and up should use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Always supervise kids younger than 6 while brushing as they are more likely to swallow toothpaste.

Even babies can develop tooth decay if good feeding habits aren't practiced. Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle might be convenient, but can harm the baby's teeth. When the sugars from juice or milk remain on a baby's teeth for hours, they can eat away at the enamel, creating a condition known as bottle mouth. Pocked, pitted, or discolored front teeth are signs of bottle mouth. Severe cases result in cavities and the need to pull all of the front teeth until the permanent ones grow in.

Never let your daughter fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth, and set specific times for drinking because sucking on a bottle throughout the day can be equally damaging to young teeth. Once she's 6 months old, she can switch from a bottle to a sippy cup (with a straw or hard spout), which lowers the dental risks related to bottle-feeding.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: May 2015