A dentist’s guide on when to start and how to brush your baby’s teeth


3 minutes

21 May 2019

Young girl with baby teeth laughing 

It only feels like five minutes ago that your little one entered the world and, not long after, the gummy smiles started.

But now, their smiles have changed. Their little teeth have started popping through and little rabbit smiles have begun. So, what do you need to know about your baby’s teeth and how to look after them?

Dentist Jeni Qiong Ni Yuan from Banksia Grove Family Dentist explains.

What are the signs of teething?

Common signs that your baby is teething include excessive drooling and dribbling, flushed redness in cheeks and general crankiness and restlessness.

“Putting things in their mouth can be a sign of teething,” says Yuan.

“But it can be a bit hit and miss because, when exploring the world, babies tend to do that anyway.”

Yuan notes that teething can sometimes progress to a low-grade fever but, unlike a fever that indicates sickness, it will be gone quickly.

What age do teeth erupt?

Babies get 20 teeth in total, five in each corner of the mouth, and these come through symmetrically. On average, the first tooth erupts around six months. The two bottom teeth erupt first, slap bang in the middle, followed by the top two. Cue cute little rabbit stage. Next come two more bottom teeth and then two on top. Then they continue erupting from the front of the mouth to the back.

The only exception is the baby canines, which are usually the second last teeth to come through. “The front eight top and bottom teeth will come through followed by a molar and there’ll be a gap which is for the canines afterwards,” says Yuan.

There are handy online resources that outline the order of eruption1, but Yuan says parents should not stress if their baby’s teeth don’t emerge in this exact order.

When should I start brushing?

Ideally, brushing should start as soon as the first tooth erupts. “A lot of babies don’t like the sensation of a brush in their mouth, so try a damp cloth without toothpaste and just get a finger in there and swab around,” advises Yuan.

“We want to encourage overall hygiene, so clean the gums and cheeks as well to get your baby used to the sensation.”

As the mouth environment has its own defence mechanism, Yuan advises that it’s not necessary to do any cleaning prior to the teeth erupting.

What should I start brushing with?

“Once you can see teeth come through you can start to use the baby toothbrushes and toothpastes which come with an age guide,” says Yuan. “Initially use the toothpaste sparingly, as they won’t like the taste, and never use adult paste.”

If your baby doesn’t like the sensation of a toothbrush, a damp cloth is a good alternative. If they don’t like the toothpaste, Yuan recommends wetting it and foaming it up a bit so it’s less clumpy and has less flavour.

“If your baby is still fussing, you can take the interim measure of prevention rather than cleaning,” says Yuan. “Try to cut down on their sugar intake that impacts their teeth.”

What pain relief can I use?

“Bonjela is one of the most popular products,” says Yuan. “If you want something more natural, you can buy or make teething rusks or pop a chew toy in the freezer, as the cold calms inflammation.” Yuan also recommends Panadol and Nurofen for pain relief as directed, particularly if the teething is affecting your baby’s sleep at night.

When is it time to visit the dentist?

The Australian Dental Association generally recommends taking your baby for its first visit to the dentist either when their first tooth becomes visible or they turn one (whichever comes first).

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1 Australian Dental Foundation - Teething chart (2016)

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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.