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Early tooth care and teething

Buying your baby’s first soft bristled toothbrush is a very exciting time, and it may need to happen sooner than you think! 

When to start brushing 

It may seem like you don’t need to start brushing until a white shining tooth has emerged, but good oral hygiene can start before a tooth has even broken through the gums. Gently wiping your baby’s gums with a soft wipe or a clean finger can help reduce bacteria along the gum line. It also helps your journey on dental success to become established as your baby gets used to the feeling. 

How to brush

As soon as you see an emerging tooth, you should begin twice daily brushing routine. Start by brushing the tooth gently in circular motions, and remember both sides of the tooth. A tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste, the size of a grain of rice, can be used, which does not need to be rinsed off. It should be encouraged that your child spits out the toothpaste when they’re old enough to. 

Make it routine 

It’s easy to imagine blissful morning and bedtime tooth cleaning routines, but the reality can be much trickier, especially as your baby becomes bigger. But persistence is key, and it’s an important routine to get established from the very beginning. It’s not only for good baby oral and tooth hygiene, but also for the health and development of their adult teeth. They can thank you for when they are Instagram obsessed teenagers! 

For tips to overcome the battle of the brushing, visit this link for helpful brushing guidance from Healthline. 

Signs of teething 

Of course, the teething chapter can be an uncomfortable one for babies and it can leave them feeling irritable and quite frankly miserable. However, it can often be confusing to know whether its teething or something else getting your baby down. So here are the classic teething symptoms to look out for: 

  • Red, sore gums 
  • Flushed cheeks 
  • Rubbing their ears 
  • Drooling and dribbling 
  • Chewing and gnawing on toys 
  • Fretful and irritable behaviour 

How to sooth your baby during teething 

There are a few things you can do to help sooth your baby when they are teething. Below are some tips. I’d recommend trying the non-medical options first. 

Comforting – Playing and comforting your baby can distract them from pain in their gums. Gently rubbing their gums with a clean finger may also help. 

Teething rings – especially effective if cooled in the fridge first. The cool sensation can sooth your baby’s gums and it gives them something to chew safely to ease discomfort. Remember to never put a teething ring in the freezer, and never tie a teething ring around your baby’s neck as this is a choking hazard. 

Teething gels – Teething gel formulated for babies can be gently rubbed onto your baby’s gums. Remember these contain a mild, local anaesthetic and only a small amount should be applied. 

Baby paracetamol – If your baby is in a lot of pain and discomfort you may want to give them baby paracetamol. This is only for infants 3 months and over and you should always follow the instructions that come with the medicine. Top tip – Always make sure you choose a sugar free option; you don’t want to risk tooth decay before those shiny teeth have even come through!  

A final note! 

Teething can be an upsetting and difficult time for both you and your baby. You may notice your baby will cry more during this phase which can be stressful and distressing, however its important to know that infant crying is normal, it will stop, and you can cope. For more information and support on managing infant crying please visit the icon website.  

There's more information on caring for your baby on our Support and Advice pages.

This video from NHS Doctor and TV presenter Dr Ranj is a great simple guide to looking after the teeth of a child up to age 3.

About the author

Julie Sheehan is a student health visitor