Q&A With Dr Emma
"Hi Dr Emma. Just wondering - when should we start brushing our baby's teeth? Her first couple have pushed through now but I don't know if rubbing or brushing will hurt her gums? Thanks!" Joanna from Lancelin (WA).
It's important to start cleaning your baby's teeth as soon as they appear in the mouth. You don't necessarily need to use a brush to clean them though. In the early days of only a few incisors (the flat front teeth), simply wiping them with a damp flannel or bib will suffice. Even though young babies are only fed milk or formula, they are still at risk of decay and gum problems. Milk actually contains a good amount of sugar, so cleaning off any milk remnants and plaque will help to keep your baby's teeth and gums healthy.
Unless you're being ridiculously vigorous, gentle brushing or wiping won't hurt your baby's gums. Our mouths are actually made to take quite a beating, think of all the hot, scratchy and spicy things we put in there! Be thorough but gentle with cleaning, and you should have no problems.
The most important time of day to clean your baby's teeth is before bed at night, after her milk feed. I know it sounds insane to even contemplate disrupting your sleepy, milk-drunk baby before bed to brush. However, it's so important that she doesn't go to sleep with milk on her teeth. A quick, gentle wipe with a flannel is all it takes, you don't need to go into the bathroom and turn the light on creating a big disturbance. Just have a cloth handy while you're feeding, and make wiping your baby's teeth the last thing you do before putting her down. As she gets older, make cleaning her teeth part of the bed time routine, as doing the same thing every night will help to settle her down for bed time.
Remember that you're helping to set up lifelong good health habits. If you start now, not only will you keep your child's mouth healthy, she'll never remember a time when she didn't clean her teeth before bed every night.