Brushing teeth is a widely acknowledged good habit for health but how young should you start? Do you brush the teeth of a four month old? Do you wait until your child is off the bottle? Do you wait until your child shows an interest?
Using a traditional (small size) toothbrush in a four or six month old is difficult. At that age, a damp washcloth works well. The rubber “brush” that fits over your finger also works. Of course, neither is a good choice if your child bites hard enough to hurt. At such young ages, using whatever is convenient for the parent is fine. By six months of age most children are skilled at eating off a spoon. Shortly thereafter, you can teach toothbrushing etiquette–no biting, etc.
Some infants and toddlers are motivated to cooperate by the taste of tooth cleanser. You notice I did not say “toothpaste”. Most children under the age of 4 years do not like the flavor of adult toothpaste. Many kids describe it as burning or hot. For any child who is likely to swallow the tooth cleanser, fluoride-free is the safest option. This is often labeled “training paste” in the store. It comes in flavors like grape. Since it is tasty, some children will eat it. Eating fluoride toothpaste is not safe so stick with fluoride free until you can trust your child to spit. There is also an enzyme based cleanser for infants and young toddlers that is safe to swallow.
So how do you teach good toothbrushing etiquette if you missed the window at 4-8 months? You can still start. If your child has 2 or more teeth at 6-12 months, I would not choose to put my fingers in his mouth. By that time, biting is inevitable! Stick to the little toothbrushes that look like adult toothbrushes. If you child is starting to grab the spoon when you feed him, go ahead and buy two toothbrushes. That way, your child can hold one while you use the other. This greatly reduces snatching and frustration. For children who are starting to want to brush their own teeth, bath time is perfect. After undressing and before getting in the bath means less mess to clean up. The time it takes to ready the tub is great for how long to brush too!
You may have noticed the wide variety of ages mentioned in this post. The age range considered to be normal for the first tooth is between 4 and 15 months old. Yes, it is a huge range. Average is 6-7 months. Fortunately teeth have little bearing on a baby or toddler’s ability to eat food so this variability is harmless. Go ahead and teach your child gum cleaning etiquette at six months even if she doesn’t have teeth. It will save you lots of frustration later.
Lastly, every community’s water supply has different amounts of fluoride. Different brands of bottled water also have different amounts of fluoride and some filters remove fluoride. If you are unsure if you child needs fluoride supplementation, ask your pediatrician, dentist or local health department.