Looking after your baby's teeth

Looking after your baby’s teeth

Find out how you should be looking after your baby’s teeth, how to treat teething and when to start taking your child to the dentist.

The health of your baby’s teeth is essential for long-term oral and general health. We explain how to care for those tiny gums and pearly whites and why looking after your baby’s teeth is so important.

Your child’s tooth development timeline


By the third week after conception, the primitive mouth has formed. Over the next few weeks, the tongue, jaws and palate develop. During the sixth week, formation of embryonic cells or tooth buds that eventually form into teeth commences. By eight weeks, the tooth buds of all of the primary (baby) teeth can be discerned; by 20 weeks, the tooth buds of permanent teeth start to develop.

Post birth

The development of the teeth within the jaw continues after birth. Normally, the first primary teeth start to appear in the mouth around six months after birth. The primary central incisors, lateral incisors, first molars, canines and second molars normally appear in this order at intervals from six to 24 months.

By age two and a half years, most children have their full complement of 20 primary teeth – 10 teeth in the upper (top) jaw and 10 teeth in the lower (bottom) jaw. As the child grows, the jaws also grow and spaces may begin to appear between the primary teeth.

Permanent teeth

This growth makes spaces for the larger permanent teeth. Tooth eruption times vary widely from child to child. From as early as age five years, the first permanent teeth, normally the four first permanent molars, begin to appear in the mouth. These erupt at the very back of the mouth behind the last primary tooth.

As no teeth fall out to make way for these new permanent first molars, it is not unusual for the emergence of the first molars to go unnoticed. At the same time, the two primary lower central incisors begin to loosen and fall out as the permanent lower central incisors emerge in their place.

Over the following six years or so, the remaining 18 primary teeth fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth.

From about age 11 years, the four second permanent molars appear behind the first permanent molars. The last teeth to appear are the third molars or wisdom teeth. Not everybody has third molars and there is considerable variation in the age at which they erupt.

Credit: The above information is taken from The Dental Health Foundation – www.dentalhealth.ie

Looking after your baby's teeth

Dr Natalia Berlinschi from My Dental answers some questions about  looking after your baby’s teeth.

Q: Why are primary teeth so important for speech development?

Primary teeth, also known as ‘baby teeth’ begin to develop beneath the gums during the second trimester of pregnancy. Teeth begin to emerge above the gums approximately six months to one year after birth. Typically, preschool children have a complete set of 20 baby teeth – including two molars on each arch.

One of the most common misconceptions about primary teeth is that they are irrelevant to the child’s future oral health. However, their importance is emphasised by the American Dental Association (ADA), which urges parents to schedule a ‘baby checkup’ with a dentist within six months of the first tooth emerging.

The major functions of primary teeth are for speech development, eating and nutrition, and good dental health. Speech production and development, learning to speak clearly is crucial for cognitive, social and emotional development. The proper positioning of primary teeth facilitates correct syllable pronunciation and prevents the tongue from straying during speech formation.

Q: When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth?

Start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as that first small tooth emerges. For most around four months.

At first, just use a piece of gauze moistened with water to wipe plaque from your baby’s teeth and gums. Try to clean your baby’s teeth twice a day.

Once your baby has several teeth, you could try using a small toothbrush with just two or three rows of very soft bristles. Brush once in the morning and once before bed. Starting this routine early on will help make it a habit for your child.

We advise parents to choose a toothpaste or baby dental cleanser that’s formulated for babies. Avoid one with fluoride at least until the child is two years old as there is already fluoride in the water in Ireland.

Fluoride can be toxic to children if ingested in large quantities. To prevent problems, keep toothpaste out of your baby’s reach, and use only a dot the size of a grain of rice when brushing.

Q: What are the the benefits of good dental habits for your child?

Many reasons, such as having a nice smile and fresh breath, may be cited for developing good oral hygiene habits. From a health perspective, however, there is one primary reason for brushing and flossing teeth: to effectively remove the film of bacteria that collects along the gum line, and in the nooks and crannies of teeth. Effective daily removal of this bio-film, throughout a lifetime, will contribute to lifelong dental health more than anything else.

Instilling the habit of good dental health

Believe it or not, developing healthy oral hygiene behaviour, unlike other behaviour modifications, is one of the easier habits to instil. This is a behaviour that can be shaped over time; it will change with your child’s age, dexterity, awareness and learning.
Starting at age two, when there are more teeth in the mouth, a brushing routine should be established using a smear of fluoride toothpaste. For toddlers, parents can use a child’s size soft toothbrush with water and a pea-sized amount of fluoride. Children need help brushing until at least age six, by which age they have generally developed more dexterity. They can take over brushing by themselves and also learn to floss.

Teach your children how to check the cleanliness of their own teeth. Teach your children to check how well they are brushing by running their tongue over their teeth. If the teeth feel nice and smooth, it’s a job well done.

It’s quite easy for your teeth to feel as clean as when you walk out of your dental clinic. Use a children’s size soft, micro-fine, multituft brush. Hold it on the gum line and gently wiggle the brush back and forth until the tooth surfaces feel clean — right down to the gum line. Then clean across the biting surfaces. Being gentle will also ensure that you don’t damage the soft gum tissues.

Avoid transferring your own oral bacteria to your children.
Keep in mind that children are not born with decay-producing bacteria, which are transferred from parents and caregivers. That’s why sharing a baby’s spoon, kissing a baby on the lips or licking a soother to clean it is never a good idea. Also make sure you are in good dental and oral health yourself.

More like this:

Easing teething
Ear infection or teething?
Pregnancy dental health


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.