As many of you know, Dustin and I welcomed our first child, Samuel Mitchell into the world this past February. Here we are, eight months later, and Sam is welcoming his first teeth into the world… kind of fun for two dentists… not so fun for two tired parents!

Throughout my career, parents have asked me for advice on caring for their children’s teeth. In the past I relied on what I learned in dental school, and what I read in dental journals to advise them. Now, geared with first-hand understanding of how this process goes, I thought it would be great to share some of the things we learned along the way.

Start early

This was one of about a million mistakes we made as first-time parents. We waited too long after that first tooth made its appearance to introduce the toothbrush. It took a few weeks for Sam to get the hang of letting us stick something in his mouth. Fortunately, he really likes it now so it’s been easy to continue to build a habit. However, I would feel like a better dentist/mom had we been able to brush that first tooth from the get-go. You can even introduce a warm washcloth to massage the gums before any teeth come in to get a head-start.

Keep it short and sweet

This is pretty intuitive, especially when there is just one solo tooth to brush. Keep it quick, especially if your child is having a difficult time getting the hang of it. When it’s a brief moment of tears or struggle, you’re much more likely to repeat it than if you drag it out for several minutes. If he or she won’t let you in one night, put the brush down and go to bed! They aren’t going to get cavities in one night. Keep building every day to make it a positive experience.

Use warm water at first

We got close to getting this one right the first time… do NOT try to put any kind of toothpaste in your child’s mouth while they are getting used to the experience. If they don’t like the flavor it could make for several months of screaming when it’s time to brush. And you don’t need it yet. We started with cold water, and that was a no-go. Sam now has no problem letting us brush his first few teeth with a brush and warm water.

When to use toothpaste

Once you get the hang of the process, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a small “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste on the child’s brush. Repeat: small smear! Too much toothpaste can cause your child to ingest it and can lead to fluorosis, a condition that causes white spots on the teeth. We are still in the early stages of brushing, so we are sticking to water for now. However, I am a big believer in the benefits of topical fluoride, and Sam will be getting it on a regular basis soon.

 

I don’t know if anything in life can make you feel less competent than becoming a parent for the first time. Trying to start brushing your child’s teeth for the first time may be a challenge. Even if it is a struggle, it is well-worth the effort. Developing the habit early and making it a positive experience will put your child on the path to a lifetime of good oral health.

 

Let me leave you with a joke that was passed around our house many times when Sam was sporting a single “snaggle tooth.”

 

How do you know the toothbrush was invented in Alabama (or insert whoever is playing LSU this week)?

Because if it was invented anywhere else it would have been called a teethbrush!

To learn more, check out this article by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Oral-Health/Documents/OralHealthFCpagesF2_2_1.pdf

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