If you think your baby’s toothless smile is cute, just wait until their first few teeth make an appearance! Your little one is growing up quickly, and their first teeth will be here before you know it. Here’s what you need to know about your child’s teeth, why they’re important for lifelong dental health and how to care for them from birth through preschool.
When do baby teeth come in?
Babies are born with all 20 primary teeth already in their jaws. Sometime around 6 months of age, the first teeth break through the gums (usually in the lower front).
The rest of your child’s primary teeth will come in gradually, with most making an appearance by age 3. At this point, kids typically have 10 top teeth and 10 bottom teeth. Here’s a full-mouth chart that shows when primary teeth usually emerge.
How can I relieve teething pain?
Babies often have tender spots when primary teeth begin to push through. Gently rubbing their gums with a clean finger, a chilled spoon or a moist gauze pad can be soothing. A clean teether for your child to chew on may also help. Choose one made of solid rubber for your baby’s safety. Avoid liquid-filled rings or plastic teethers that might break or develop sharp edges.
Here are more tips for safely comforting a teething child. If your little one is extra fussy or develops a temperature, rash or diarrhea while teething, get in touch with your doctor.
Should I worry about cavities in baby teeth?
You may wonder why primary teeth matter, since they will fall out eventually. But keep in mind that your child’s teeth are essential for chewing, the first step in healthy digestion. Primary teeth also help kids speak clearly and smile brightly, giving them confidence early in life.
Primary teeth are sometimes called “nature’s braces” because they help set the proper spacing for adult teeth to come in correctly — a process that starts around age 6. Baby teeth lost to cavities can threaten the health of your child’s permanent teeth. Keeping primary teeth cavity-free also eases the fear and discomfort your child might feel if the dentist needs to treat or remove a decayed tooth.
6 key steps for keeping baby teeth cavity-free
- Even before your baby’s first teeth break through, gently wipe gums with a damp cloth or gauze pad after meals.
- As soon as baby teeth appear, gently brush them twice daily with a small, soft-bristled brush and a little fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). You’ll need to brush your child’s teeth at first, gradually helping them learn how to brush as they grow.
- Once your child has two teeth that touch, use a strand of dental floss to clean in between. This helps remove leftover food between teeth and under gums.
- Between ages 3 and 6, teach your child how to brush and floss. Supervise to make sure they reach all their teeth, all sides (front, top and back). Just like adults, kids should brush twice daily for at least two minutes each time, using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brushing in the morning and evening is usually best. Special picks or pre-threaded flossing tools can make flossing easier for little hands.
- Make sure your child drinks plenty of plain water. In most communities, water supplies have added fluoride to prevent tooth decay. (Not sure if your tap water has fluoride? Use this online map to find out.)
- Watch your child’s diet carefully. Cavity-causing bacteria feed on sugary foods and drinks, including ones you might think are healthy, such as fruit juice, baked goods and cereal bars made with honey or molasses. Learn more about cavity prevention here.
When should I take my baby to the dentist?
Schedule your child’s first dental visit anytime after primary teeth break through, but no later than their first birthday. Think of this as a “well-baby checkup” for your child’s teeth. Besides checking for cavities and other problems, your dentist can offer suggestions for cleaning your child's teeth and how to handle habits like thumb sucking, which can cause teeth to move out of position. Here are more tips for planning your child’s first dental visit.
Special steps your dentist may recommend
Dental sealants are a special coating that fills in any grooves and pits on your child’s back teeth (molars). Studies show that sealants are a very effective way to prevent decay in these teeth, which are essential for healthy chewing. Ask your dentist if sealants are a good idea for your child.
Your dentist may also recommend fluoride varnish as a cavity-fighting supplement to the fluoride your child gets from other sources. This surface treatment is simple, pain-free and takes just a few minutes to apply in the dentist’s office.
What should I do when my child’s tooth falls out?
Losing a tooth is an exciting milestone for your child, and for you too! (Here are five fun ways grownups can play Tooth Fairy.)
If your child feels worried, reassure them that losing baby teeth is a natural part of growing up. You’ll find additional tips in this short video.