How to Care for a Child's Teeth

By: Alvin Eden

How to Care for Baby Teeth

Excessive amounts of crying can be a sign that your baby's teeth are coming in.
Excessive amounts of crying can be a sign that your baby's teeth are coming in.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

You should begin checking your baby's mouth periodically even before the first tooth erupts. This gives you an idea of the normal appearance of your baby's mouth. Whining, crying, or drooling even more than usual may precede teething. Other common signs of teething are changes in feeding habits, trouble sleeping, and increased irritability.

If your baby's gums are red and swollen or if you can feel or see the tip of a tooth, teething probably is the cause of these changes in your baby's behavior. However, if your baby also has a fever or a rash or is vomiting, something else may be wrong.


Your baby will have a strong urge to chew at this time; you should give your baby a teething ring or frozen banana or frozen bagel. Babies vary in their need for other help. Check with your baby's doctor or your dentist before using any of the commercial preparations to ease teething discomfort. To help soothe your baby's gums, wipe a dampened gauze pad over them two or three times a day.

After your baby's teeth begin to appear, clean them daily with a dampened gauze pad or clean washcloth until your baby is big enough to begin using a toothbrush. When your baby is 1 1/2 to 2 years old, purchase a child-size toothbrush.

At least once a day -- preferably before bedtime -- you should brush your child's teeth. Several other times during the day -- preferably after meals -- let your child try to brush her own teeth; this will consist mainly of her chewing on the toothbrush. At this age, make no attempt to try to teach your child toothbrushing techniques. It is more important to establish a pattern of dental care, and even chewing on a toothbrush helps clean the teeth.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Never give your baby a bottle of milk, juice, or a sweetened beverage when you put her to bed, and never put honey, syrup, or another sweetening agent on your baby's pacifier. These practices can cause severe destruction of your baby's teeth. Tooth decay, or nursing decay syndrome, can result from such practices.

When your baby sucks on a bottle when she is awake, the liquid is rapidly diluted with saliva and swallowed. However, if your baby falls asleep while nursing and swallows less often, the bacteria normally present in her mouth have time to turn the sugars in these liquids into acids that attack the tooth enamel. Sweetening agents on a pacifier also permit the sugars to remain in the mouth too long. The teeth most severely damaged are the upper incisors, and it has been necessary to remove teeth destroyed by this type of decay in children as young as 18 months old.

Other destructive practices are putting sugar in a piece of cloth and using this as a pacifier or using a piece of bread as a pacifier. The starches in the bread are quickly converted to sugars in the mouth, which can then serve as a food source for decay-causing bacteria.


Fluoride combines with the enamel of the teeth and makes the teeth more resistant to decay. The use of fluoride can prevent an estimated two of every three potential cavities. Fluoride can be provided in drops that are swallowed, in a gel applied to the teeth, in a chewable form, in fluoride-vitamin combinations, and in toothpaste. But the most common source is the community water supply.

Because the enamel of some teeth forms in the fetus, it is important for the future health of your baby's teeth to obtain an adequate supply of fluoride. If you drink fluoridated water, you receive ample fluoride.

However, if you have a private water supply that is not fluoridated (such as your own well) or you drink bottled water, check with your dentist about another source of fluoride for you. If your baby is breast-fed or fed a premixed formula, he probably is not receiving enough fluoride and may need a fluoride supplement. Your doctor or dentist can tell you the best supplement to use.

If your drinking water is fluoridated, it is recommended that you not use additional fluoride supplements. Ingesting excess fluoride can cause permanent discoloration of the teeth.

Other Dental Problems

Dental decay is among the most common diseases affecting children, and it is the most preventable. To help prevent most caries (cavities) or catch decay at an early stage, feed your child a well-balanced diet low in sugars, provide fluoridated water or use fluoride supplements, teach her to brush after meals, and visit the dentist at recommended intervals. Caries in the primary teeth must be taken care of to relieve your child's pain and to help maintain the teeth until they are ready to be replaced by the permanent teeth.

Inflamed, bleeding gums are not normal but are a sign of dental problems. Even a young child can have gum disease, which needs the attention of a dentist. Untreated gum disease or dental decay in primary teeth can lead to infection or other problems that may affect the permanent teeth.

Young children exploring their world by crawling, toddling, and attempting to stand alone may fall or bump their teeth and mouths. Any mouth injury that results in excessive bleeding or a chipped, loose, or displaced tooth needs to be evaluated by a dentist. If a tooth is knocked out, put the tooth in a cup of water and take it and your child to the dentist as soon as possible.

Thumb sucking is a natural and satisfying behavior for babies and young children. Many parents worry that thumb sucking may damage the alignment of permanent teeth. But most children outgrow this activity by four or five years of age. It does not appear to affect permanent teeth when it occurs in young children and should not be a cause for concern.

No matter how well you take care of your child's teeth, you will have to take them to the dentist eventually. We will discuss taking your child to the dentist in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.