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Newborn Basics

How Do I Clean Baby's New Teeth?

Is it important to clean baby's new teeth? How do I do it safely?

You may be wondering why it’s important to clean baby’s teeth when she’s just going to lose them in a few years anyway. Well, look at her baby teeth as benchwarmers — these first chompers hold the place for baby’s adult teeth. If they’re unhealthy or deformed in infancy, chances are her adult teeth will have some trouble growing in properly. And tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in US children.

So, now that you know why baby’s teeth must be cleaned, how do you go about cleaning only a tooth or two? Gentle is the key word in dental care as baby’s teeth are still soft and sensitive. You can put a damp, clean gauze pad on your finger and gently wipe baby’s teeth, or use a washcloth. They even make disposable finger brushes specifically for babies (ask your pharmacist or dentist for recommendations). A baby brush with no more than three rows of soft bristles is also okay and should be available at major drugstores. If you do go this route, change the brush every two to four months because even though you can’t see it, bacteria are there.

Babies also don’t need as much toothpaste as you do. In fact, too much fluoride is toxic to their system. Remember, babies don’t spit; they swallow, so fluoride in water combined with fluoride in toothpaste can be dangerous. The American Academy of Pediatrics recenetly backed earlier recommendations from the American Dental Association, deciding that cleaning baby's new teeth with a shmear of fluoride toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) is safe. By age three, you can upgrade to a pea-sized amount.

While brushing twice a day is sufficient, it doesn’t hurt to wash baby’s teeth after meals and before bed. Make sure to also wipe the front of his tongue because it’s a haven for germs. Just don’t go too far back because he’ll gag.

When should baby go to the dentist? The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends “first visit by first birthday,” but in the meantime, you should keep baby’s diet healthy. For example, watch her sugar intake (including natural and artificial) and make sure she gets calcium, phosphorous, fluoride (yes, small amounts are okay), and vitamin C (good for the gums). And never let baby sleep with a bottle — the sugars from breast milk and formula will rot her teeth. Serve juice watered down and in a cup so it spends less time on her teeth. And, if baby is on solids, add some cheese at the end of a meal: It encourages saliva production, which can wash away cavity-causing acids and sugars from the mouth.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Dealing With Teething

How to Teach Toddler to Brush Teeth

Top 10 Teething Toys

By Jennifer Shu, MD, pediatrician with Children’s Medical Group P.C. in Atlanta and author of Heading Home With Your Newborn (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010)