Good oral health starts at a very young age. Taking care of your child's gums and teeth every day helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease. It also helps make it a regular habit for your child.
Learn how to care for your children's teeth and gums starting when they are a newborn. When children get old enough, teach them how to brush their teeth on their own.
Tooth and Gum Care for Young Children
You should start caring for your child's mouth when they are just a few days old.
- Gently wipe your baby's gums using a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad.
- Clean your baby's mouth after every feeding and before bed.
Your baby's teeth will start to come in between ages 6 to 14 months. Baby teeth can decay, so you should start cleaning them as soon as they appear.
- Gently brush your child's teeth with a soft, child-sized toothbrush and water.
- Do not use fluoride toothpaste until your child is 2 years old. Your child needs to be able to spit out the toothpaste rather than swallowing it.
- For children under age 3, use just a small amount of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. For older children, use a pea-sized amount.
- Brush your child's teeth after breakfast and before bed.
- Brush in tiny circles on the gums and on the teeth. Brush for 2 minutes. Focus on the back molars, which are most at risk for cavities.
- Use floss to clean between the teeth once a day. Start flossing as soon as there are 2 teeth that touch. Floss sticks may be easier to use.
- Change to a new toothbrush at least every 3 to 4 months.
Teach Children to Brush and Floss
Teach your children to brush their teeth.
- Start by being a role model and show your children how you floss and brush your teeth every day.
- Children under age 6 may be able to handle a toothbrush on their own. If they want to, it is fine to let them practice. Just be sure you follow up and brush any spots they missed.
- Show children to brush the top, bottom, and sides of teeth. Use short, back-and-forth strokes.
- Teach children to brush their tongue to keep breath fresh and remove germs.
- Most children can brush their teeth on their own by the age of 7 or 8 years.
When to Call the Doctor
Make an appointment for your baby to see a dentist when you see a first tooth or by age 1 year. Your child's dentist can show you other ways to help prevent tooth decay.
American Dental Association website. Mouth Healthy. Dental health for babies and kids. www.mouthhealthy.org/life-stages/babies-and-kids. Accessed May 25, 2023.
Dhar V. Dental caries. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 338.
Hughes CV, Dean JA. Mechanical and chemotherapeutic home oral hygiene. In: Dean JA, ed. McDonald and Avery's Dentistry for the Child and Adolescent. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA; Elsevier; 2022:chap 8.
Silva DRP. Periodontal health and disease in children and adolescents. In: Newman MG, Klokkevold PR, Elangovan S, Hernandez-Kapila YL, eds. Newman and Carranza's Clinical Periodontology and Implantology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 20.
Review Date 4/25/2023
Updated by: Charles I. Schwartz, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, General Pediatrician at PennCare for Kids, Phoenixville, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.