Get the facts about baby teeth and get your infant started on the path to good oral health as early as possible.

By Tamekia Reece
October 20, 2016
Baby Teeth Myths Boy Brushing Teeth Blue Towel
Credit: Anna Grigorjeva/Shutterstock

With so many years of dealing with your own teeth, you’d think that caring for your baby’s tiny ones would be no big deal. Yet there’s still a lot of confusion about what to do when teeth start making an appearance around 6 months. This expert advice will answer your questions and dispel some common misconceptions.

MYTH: Baby teeth aren’t that important.

FACT: Yes, your baby’s primary teeth are temporary and will eventually fall out. However, they have many functions beyond looking adorable. “Baby teeth are essential for eating and getting proper nutrition, for the structure of the face, and for holding space for the adult teeth to come in properly,” says Homa Amini, D.D.S., chief of pediatric dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio. If a tooth is lost too early because of decay, the other teeth could shift so there’s not enough space for the adult tooth to grow in, she says. Another reason those tiny teeth are critical: your baby’s speech development. She’ll need her teeth to be able to eventually produce sounds like l, th, and sh.

MYTH: Teething can make your baby sick.

FACT: Although you may have heard that teething causes diarrhea, fever, and a whole host of other problems, recent research shows that any symptoms are actually quite mild. Gum irritation, drooling, and irritability are the most common symptoms associated with teething, according to a recent study in Pediatrics; some babies may also experience a slight rise in temperature. However, a true fever (100.4°F or higher) isn’t related to teething, says Jade Miller, D.D.S., president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). If your baby has significant signs of sickness, contact your pediatrician.

MYTH: You should brush your baby’s teeth once daily.

FACT: Twice a day is better. “It takes approximately 24 hours for the film of bacteria that causes cavities, commonly referred to as plaque, to build up enough strength to damage the tooth structure,” says Dr. Miller. “It’s unlikely any person—child or adult—will get all of the plaque removed on once-a-day brushing. Therefore, we recommend brushing twice a day, to improve the likelihood of more thorough plaque removal.” Before your baby has any teeth, clean her mouth and gums with a damp washcloth. Once her first tooth sprouts, switch to a small, soft-bristled toothbrush, and use a fluoridated toothpaste sparingly. “A small amount, the size of a grain of rice, is all you need,” Dr. Miller says. Use the same brushing technique you use: Put the toothbrush on your baby’s gum line and brush in small circles, making sure to get the front and back of every tooth. And don’t worry about dental floss yet: You can wait until she has two teeth that touch each other before you floss.

MYTH: Kids shouldn’t have fluoride toothpaste until they’re 2 years old.

FACT: This was once the thought, but experts now advise using a fluoride toothpaste right from the start. “Fluoride significantly decreases the chances of decay,” Dr. Miller says. The reason fluoride was once delayed is because too much can affect the appearance of a child’s teeth, causing white spots or rough, pitted surfaces, and very young children swallow toothpaste instead of spitting it out. That’s why you should use only a small smear. Parents also often wonder whether they should use a toothpaste with a “baby” label. “If the baby-labeled toothpaste does not have any fluoride, then it does not provide any cavity-prevention benefits,” Dr. Amini says. “Technically, any fluoride toothpaste will have the same concentration of fluoride, but the flavor of kids’ toothpaste may be more pleasant.” You certainly want to avoid adult toothpastes that have additional ingredients for things like whitening or tartar control.

MYTH: Babies can’t get cavities.

FACT: “If you have a tooth, it can get a cavity,” says Jill Lasky, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at Lasky Pediatric Dental Group, in Los Angeles. And even though your baby’s teeth will fall out eventually, that doesn’t mean decay is a small or temporary problem. “If left untreated, a cavity in a baby tooth may cause the tooth to become infected or abscessed, which can cause pain and swelling,” Dr. Miller says. In addition, the permanent tooth is forming right at the ends of the root of the baby tooth, so any infection in the baby tooth can damage the permanent tooth, he says. In fact, one study found that children who had cavities in their baby teeth were three times more likely to develop cavities in their adult teeth. In addition to brushing, the most important way to reduce your baby’s likelihood of developing cavities is to avoid putting him to bed with a bottle of formula or juice, or breastfeeding him on and off throughout the night. “The bacteria that cause cavities love sugar and carbohydrates,” says Dr. Miller. “After your baby falls asleep, the sweet liquid pools in his mouth and provides the opportunity for cavities to develop.” Also avoid sharing utensils with him or cleaning his pacifier with your mouth, which can pass on your adult cavity-causing germs to your baby. Contact a pediatric dentist if your baby shows signs of a cavity, which may include a white, dark brownish, or black spot that doesn’t brush or wipe off or a tooth that looks chipped or cracked (when no previous trauma has occurred).

MYTH: You should schedule the first dental checkup by age 3.

FACT: The American Academy of Pediatrics and the AAPD now both recommend that a baby see a dentist after he gets his first tooth or by his first birthday. “About 60 percent of children in the U.S. have tooth decay by the time they’re 5 years old,” says Dr. Miller, and it’s not uncommon for babies to show signs of early decay. At the first visit, the dentist will do an exam to evaluate your baby’s current cavity risk and talk with you about what you can do to keep her mouth healthy. After the first visit, your baby should have a dental checkup every six months or as recommended by your dentist.

Parents Magazine

Comments (3)

April 21, 2020
Please fact check this article. This article says you need to start using fluoride toothpaste right away, but another article say to wait until age two. Both article links came in the same teething email, so hopefully someone can see who is accurate. "Your Baby's Teething Timeline Teething is a painful process for both mom and baby. Learn more about the signs of teething, plus the soothing remedies that will ease this uncomfortable baby milestone.  By Marisa Cohen Since too much fluoride can cause brown or white spots on incoming teeth, wait until age 2 to use pea-size amounts of fluoride toothpaste."  
August 22, 2019
As you mentioned in the post, baby’s primary teeth are not so important they are temporary and will eventually fall out. But these Baby teeth are very important not only for eating and getting proper nutrition but also for stem cells.. Yes, Baby milk tooth is a rich source of stem cells called dental stem cells. they are widely being researched and investigated for treating various diseases as they have the capacity to multiply and divide themselves and differentiate into multiple types of cells. Visit this site to know more about dental stem cell and it process and advantages very clearly
December 3, 2018
Quick tip for all you parents all out there: My baby never slept well (especially through the night) until I started using the website >>>>SleepBaby .org<<<< - that website has been by far one of the best things I've ever got my hands on to get him to fall asleep quickly. Best time is 45 seconds from awake to asleep! I heard about it through a kindergarten teacher who uses it to put to sleep a group of 30 children. Check it out! Sorry, you can't post links here so you'll have to turn it into a normal link. >>SleepBaby .org<< Best of luck to you and your family! :)