Dental care from 6 months to 3 years

Your baby's first tooth usually breaks through the gum (erupts) at about 6 months, and most babies have about six teeth by the time they are 1 year old. Many babies feel some pain during teething and may be fussy. For more information, see the topic Teething.

By the time your child is 6 months of age, your doctor should assess the likelihood of your child having future dental problems.1, 2 This may include a dental exam of the mother and her dental history, as the condition of her teeth can often predict her child's teeth. If your doctor feels your child will have dental problems, be sure your child sees a dentist before his or her first birthday or 6 months after the first primary teeth appear, whichever comes first. After your first visit, schedule regular visits every 6 months or as your dentist recommends.

Experts recommend that your child's dental care start at 12 months of age.2 Babies with dental problems caused by injury, disease, or a developmental problem should be seen by a dentist right away. A children's dentist (pediatric dentist) is specially trained to treat these problems.

If these dental problems are not limited to the surfaces of the teeth, your baby should also be seen by a children's doctor (pediatrician) or your family doctor. For more information, see the topics Mouth and Dental Injuries and Mouth Problems, Noninjury.

You can begin to practice good dental health habits with your child at the appearance of the first tooth:

  • If you bottle-feed, do not put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, formula or other sugary liquid. The opportunity for tooth decay to develop increases while these liquids stay in the mouth (bottle mouth). Do not prop the bottle up in your baby's mouth. Remove the bottle as soon as your baby is done feeding or is asleep.
  • Breast-feeding your infant to sleep is safe. Encourage your baby to begin drinking from a cup at about 9 months of age.
  • Young children get and give lots of kisses. But saliva contains bacteria that can cause tooth decay. You can help prevent early childhood tooth decay in your child by making sure that your family practices good dental health habits. If a family member has gum problems, he or she may transfer the bacteria to your baby. Talk to your family about this.
  • Start cleaning your child's teeth with a soft cloth or gauze pad as soon as the teeth come in. As more teeth erupt, clean teeth with a soft toothbrush, using only water for the first few months.
  • By the time your baby is 1 year old, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brush your child's teeth for the first few years, until your child can do it on his or her own (usually at about age 3). Teach your child not to swallow the toothpaste.
  • Give your child nutritious foods to maintain healthy gums, develop strong teeth, and avoid tooth decay. These include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Try to avoid foods that are high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, such as pastries, pasta, and white bread. For more information, see MyPyramid.
  • Discuss your child's fluoride needs with your dentist if your local water supply does not contain enough fluoride. To find out, call your local water company or health department. If you have your own well, have your water checked to find out if your family needs fluoride from other sources. You may also need to provide fluoride to your children if you use bottled water for cooking or drinking.

Keep your child away from cigarette smoke (secondhand smoke). Tobacco smoke may contribute to the development of tooth decay and gum disease.3

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2003). Oral health risk assessment timing and establishment of the dental home. Pediatrics, 111(5): 1113–1116.
  2. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2004). Clinical guidelines on infant oral health care. Available online: http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/G_InfantOralHealthCare.pdf.
  3. Aligne CA, et al. (2003). Association of pediatric dental caries with passive smoking. JAMA, 289(10): 1258–1264.

Last Updated: April 23, 2009

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