Keeping Those Little Teeth Healthy

Keeping Those Little Teeth Healthy

By Kathryn Peck / Medically reviewed by Dr. Samantha Ball, DO

Recently, my toddler’s dental care took center stage in the performance of my ongoing parenting worries. It was an unusual situation where a tiny cavity very quickly turned into a tiny root canal, which then very quickly turned into the entire tooth needing to be removed when they discovered something, a fingernail to be exact, that had gotten lodged in the tooth and was being expelled from the root. Strange, terrible, puzzling, and upsetting at the same time. My little guy required general anesthesia for the procedure. But it’s fixed, and so the experience remains only in my own memory now (and in the metal spacer that’s left behind to keep room for his future teeth to grow in).

But this experience had me thinking about how challenging dental care can be sometimes when kids are so young, and they can’t really express themselves, but how important it is at the same time.

This experience had me thinking about how challenging dental care can be sometimes when kids are so young, and they can’t really express themselves, but how important it is at the same time.

For most children, all 20 baby teeth arrive by the time they are 3. The first ones usually appear between 6 and 12 months, but they can appear as early as 3 months. 

Baby teeth can arrive in any order, but the lower incisors are often first, followed by the upper incisors.

Once your baby’s teeth do come in, it’s important to brush them twice daily with an infant-sized toothbrush. I know from personal experience that this is a more difficult resolution than it sounds, but after breakfast and before bed are the best times to work this into a routine. A fluoride toothpaste is recommended (fluoride is a natural mineral that toughens the enamel), but use only a smear of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Should you choose a fluoride-free toothpaste, use the same amount. 

Fluoride is also often added to tap water, so when your baby starts using a sippy cup with water at around 6 months of age, they’ll be getting additional fluoride. 

A toothbrush should be the last thing that touches your little one’s teeth before bedtime. Experts highly recommend against putting your baby to bed with a bottle, as the sugars from fluids like milk or formula can stick to your child's teeth and feed bacteria in the mouth, which produce acids that attack the teeth and cause tooth decay.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends children should see the dentist at around 12 months of age or when their first tooth appears. These visits may seem insignificant, but they can help identify problems early and get children used to visiting the dentist at an early age. In the meantime, you might notice that your pediatrician may have started doing oral checkups on your baby at about 6 months and perhaps applying a fluoride varnish (which helps to prevent or slow down tooth decay) to your little one’s teeth.

As your child grows, choose a toothbrush designed for children aged 2-5 years. There are tons of options to choose from in the drugstores, and the verdict on electric vs. manual toothbrushes is that they’re both equally good, as long as they’re used properly. Maybe let your child choose?

What if my toddler resists teeth brushing? 

1. Try brushing with just water first. Who knows, maybe it’s the toothpaste flavor they don’t like? And without toothpaste, it’s not too messy so let them brush their teeth in the living room if they want.

2. Let them brush your teeth first!

3. Play music while you brush. It might help your toddler to associate brushing their teeth with something fun.

4. Have them brush their stuffed animals’ teeth or their dolls’ teeth first.

5. We know toddlers love control, so give them options and let them choose toothbrushes or toothpaste. 

Your little ones are going to have their teeth for a long, long time, so why not start them out on the right path while they’re young?


Please note: This is for educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to substitute individual medical advice. For specific and individual advice, always talk to your doctor.

About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.

About the reviewer: Dr. Samantha Ball, DO, is a pediatrician, cat mom, and advocate for children’s overall health and wellness. She is continually focused on supporting families through all stages in a realistic and evidence-based way. In addition to practicing medicine in Georgia, she shares experiences and her perspectives on topics including parenting tips, mental and physical health, and how to navigate the unexpected challenges that come about when raising kids.

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