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How to care for your baby’s gums: A guide to the first year

Parents often wonder when is the right time to begin caring for their infant's teeth. While you might guess that waiting until after the teeth come in would be the logical starting point, the answer is right after the baby is born.

You see, dental care is just as important for infants as it is for the rest of us. With proper care and attention, you can help your child avoid cavities and establish healthy dental habits from the very start.

Brushing baby gums

You might be surprised to learn that, even without teeth, your baby's mouth needs some regular attention. Breast milk, formula, and water are the only things your baby consumes for the first few months. While all of them are healthy, the breast milk and formula do contain natural sugars. When left in your baby's mouth, the sugars can create bacteria that produce tooth decay. And while your baby's teeth may not yet have come in, they are just below the surface and can be affected by any bacteria that grow in the mouth.

Another benefit of gum care is that it allows your child to get used to dental care in general. When the time comes to start brushing those first little teeth, your child won't resist and you'll be able to get the job done properly.

Gum care for infants

Caring for a baby's gums is very similar to regular dental care - with a few exceptions. Here are the basics:

  • Once or twice a day, take a few minutes to clean your baby's mouth. Using a damp wash cloth or gauze pad, gently wipe the gums, cheeks, and tongue to wipe away any food or liquids. This will help prevent bacteria from growing. Toothpaste isn't necessary, but you can use a tiny, grain-of-rice-sized amount.
  • Rinse your child's mouth after feeding and before bed time. This will help clear out foods or liquids that can cause tooth decay in baby teeth, sometimes called "bottle mouth."
  • When teething starts, there are several things you can do to help reduce your baby's discomfort. See the article Teething remedies: What works and what doesn't for a list of suggestions.
  • After the first tooth appears, you can use a child-size toothbrush to clean your baby's teeth and gums. For more detailed information on how to brush your child's teeth see How to choose and use your baby’s first toothbrush.
  • For more information on caring for your child's teeth now and in the future see Dental Health for Children.

Gum care for infants may seem intimidating at first, but these simple techniques will help prevent cavities in those baby teeth. Plus, you'll help your child get comfortable with regular dental care, which is a healthy habit that should last a lifetime.

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