Small Smiles: What You Need to Know About Baby Teeth

Toddler girl smiling in a playroom
By Erinn Enany
Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine 

Smile, grin or put on a happy face! Baby teeth are something to smile about. Your little one is growing up quickly and those baby teeth will be coming into his or her mouth before you know it. Learn why baby teeth are important and be prepared to care for your child’s teeth using the information and tips below.

Why Are Baby Teeth Important?

You may wonder why baby teeth matter since they are going to fall out of the mouth one day. Baby teeth have many important roles in the mouth. They are needed for eating, speaking and smiling. Baby teeth help keep the space in the jaws for adult teeth. Your child will lose their first baby tooth around age 6 when the adult teeth begin to come into the mouth. If your child loses a baby tooth too early, talk to your child’s dentist about options to keep the correct space in the mouth for the adult tooth to come in normally. 

When Do I See Baby Teeth?

The first baby teeth will break through the gums and into the mouth around 6 months of age. These are usually the front bottom teeth. The last baby teeth to come into the mouth around age 3 are in the very back of the mouth in the upper jaw. At this age, your child will likely have 10 top teeth and 10 bottom teeth. 

How Do I Take Care of Baby Teeth?

There are many things you can do to help care for your child’s baby teeth. Below is a list of ways to keep your child’s mouth healthy.

  • Brush 2 times a day (morning and night) with fluoride toothpaste to prevent cavities. For newborns, wipe the gums with a wet cloth or pad to keep the mouth clean. For children younger than age 3, use an amount of toothpaste that is the size of a grain of rice. For children 3 years and older, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Help your child brush their teeth for 2 minutes until you feel sure that your child will brush all sides of their teeth well. 
  • Clean between their teeth daily once you see two teeth that touch. This helps to get rid of food between teeth and under the gums. Using floss every day also helps to stop cavities from forming between teeth. Just like with brushing, help your child clean between their teeth until they can do it well on their own. 
  • Make regular visits to your child’s dentist. As soon you see your baby’s first tooth – and no later than your child’s first birthday – visit the dentist for a checkup. Your dentist can tell you if your child has plaque or cavities, when to expect the next baby teeth to come in, and how to take good care of your child’s teeth. Also, some states require children to have a dental exam before they start school or finish certain grade levels.
  • Watch your child’s diet. What your child eats and drinks can hurt their baby teeth. Some drinks including fruit juice and soda can be high in sugar or acid. Limit sugary treats like cookies, too. Sugar and acid can make the outer shell (enamel) of teeth weak and put teeth at a higher risk for cavities.
  • Ask your child’s dentist about sealants.sealant is a special coating that goes into the grooves and pits of your child’s molars (back teeth). Sealants protect against cavities on the biting surfaces of the teeth. If your dentist feels your child is at high risk for cavities, sealants may be put on your child’s back teeth.
  • Ask your child’s dentist about fluoride treatment. Fluoride is found in many public water sources and toothpastes, and helps protect teeth from cavities. Your dentist may also recommend fluoride varnish to provide extra cavity protection. Applying fluoride varnish is quick and painless. Your dentist will paint the fluoride treatment (a sticky varnish) on the top and sides of your child’s teeth with a small brush to help prevent cavities.