Cleaning teeth – what/when/why and how

We all know that we need to clean our children’s teeth. But when? And how? And for how long? I have some answers to your questions.

Babies are born with their full set of teeth ready to go they are just hidden in their gums. For most babies their teeth will start to appear between 6 and 10 months of age. Some babies will get teeth earlier and some later but generally they will have started teething before they are one. Teeth can arrive in an order but generally the bottom two teeth are first, followed by the top two and by the time they are 3 they should have all their baby teeth.

It is very important to look after your child’s teeth as this is vital for their health and wellbeing. You can even start looking after them before they appear! It is advised that you start by wiping your baby’s gums with a face washer or soft cloth a couple of times a day. This also helps babies get used to having something in their mouth.

As soon as the teeth appear, the Raising Children website ( advises that you can clean them twice a day; in the morning and before bed at night. They also suggest that you “wrap a clean, damp face washer or gauze around your finger and wipe the front and back of each of your baby’s teeth.”

Once your baby is used to having their teeth cleaned, then you can introduce a small, soft children’s toothbrush. Don’t use toothpaste on the toothbrush until your child is about 18 months old. Before that just use water to wash the teeth. Once your child is 18 months old, you can use a small amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush.

So what is the best way to clean a young child’s teeth? You want to make it as pleasant as possible for your child and not scare them off. You can use some music or you could do it in front of their favourite TV show if they are really resistant. Also, try not to attempt cleaning their teeth when they are really tired and cranky, it just won’t work. Doing it in the bath where they are happy is a good idea.

Following are some tips on how to clean your baby’s teeth:

  1. Place your baby in a position where you can see their mouth and they feel secure, like in a chair or on your lap.
  2. Cup your baby’s chin in your hands, with their head resting back against your body.
  3. Clean the teeth using soft, circular motions.
  4. Ensure you lift up their lips to brush the front and back of the teeth and at the gum line.

You also should ensure that you keep the toothbrush as clean as possible, so after cleaning rinse the toothbrush with tap water. Then store the toothbrush upright in an open container to allow it to air-dry. And remember there is no sharing when it comes to toothbrushes! Bacteria from one toothbrush can be transferred to another so try to keep the toothbrushes separate and not touching. And finally, toothbrushes should be replaced every 3 to 4 months, or when they are looking a bit worse for wear. Babies do tend to bite down on the bristles, so their toothbrushes might not last too long.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.