Your baby’s first tooth: so adorable, so perfect. Realizing it’s your job to keep that tooth and all your child’s teeth as perfect as possible, you might wonder: When should I start brushing my baby’s teeth with toothpaste?
Your instincts are right to start dental care as soon as possible. This will set the stage for your child’s later healthy dental practices. But you’ll want to start gently. We’ll give you a best baby toothpaste primer and other tips for keeping your little one’s teeth in perfect condition.
Why do babies need special toothpaste?
Many adult toothpaste brands, and unfortunately, some kids’ toothpaste, including the ones branded as “all-natural,” contain ingredients that are actually harmful to oral health. That’s why I don’t suggest buying the first child’s Crest toothpaste you see at the drugstore.
This shady toothpaste marketing can make it difficult to know that what you’re using to brush your little ones’ teeth is totally safe.
So, is toothpaste safe for babies?
It can be! The best natural toothpaste won’t use fluoride, SLS, or most essential oils.
Ingredients to Avoid in Toothpaste for Kids
Whatever toothpaste you decide on for your toddler, make sure it’s fluoride-free.
Is fluoride bad for you?
For children, it definitely is.
Many people think that fluoride toothpaste is necessary to prevent cavities. However, there are other ways to accomplish this that don’t carry the risk of a neurotoxin and fluorosis.
When fluoride is swallowed, it is toxic. And even if your baby or toddler is exposed to small doses, there’s evidence that it is toxic to the developing human brain.
The Harvard School of Public Health reported that fluoride in water “adversely affect[s] cognitive development in children,” causing as much as a 7-point lower IQ. This is based largely on two studies published 2012 and 2017.
If you and your dentist do decide to give your child fluoride, I recommend you keep track of where your child is getting fluoride and how much.
Fluoride exists in not just tap water, but also bottled water, fish and seafood, cereals, infant formula, and even teflon pans. The stuff is everywhere, and I have seen multiple cases of fluorosis in children even when using toothpaste without fluoride.
A very common ingredient in toothpaste is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), also sometimes listed as sodium laureth sulphate. This is a strong detergent that has demonstrated in several studies to increase canker sore outbreaks.
There’s really no reason to expose a baby’s delicate and developing oral environment to harsh detergents like SLS. Plus, all my recommendations below are SLS free toothpaste.
3. Essential Oils
Essential oils are commonly found in “all-natural” toothpastes as an antibacterial agent.
The problem? Most essential oils are antibacterial, and babies actually need to build their oral microbiome to prevent cavities, not kill it off.
If you decide to DIY your child’s toothpaste, leave out the essential oils. You may also want to use one that’s not bactericidal, such as anise (which you’ll find in my Kid’s DIY Toothpaste recipe).
When Should I Start Brushing My Child’s Teeth?
Proper oral hygiene begins before your baby starts teething. Before your child’s teeth come in, you should care for their gums like you would their teeth.
After feeding, you should gently rub your baby’s gums with a moist washcloth or gauze pad to remove any bacteria growing there. You can also buy xylitol wipes for your baby’s gums, which can be great if you’re in a rush.
When should babies use toothpaste? Babies should use toothpaste when their first tooth begins to come in. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend using toothpaste when a baby’s teeth start to erupt through the gums.
Even if your baby’s teeth are barely coming through their gums, it’s imperative to brush them. Breastmilk itself doesn’t cause cavities, but it accelerates tooth decay when it mixes with sugars from food in the mouth. Don’t skip brushing your baby’s teeth!
The best way to brush a baby’s teeth is with a baby toothbrush or a small soft-bristle toothbrush. Start with a squeeze of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice for kids under the age of 3. Brush at least twice a day and always before bed.
Gently brush all sides of each tooth and along the gumline. Once there is a possibility of little teeth touching, it’s time to start flossing as well. You should floss between your baby’s teeth at least once a day. Be sure to floss behind the back molars, too, after they come in.
Toddlers should brush their teeth just like you would brush a baby’s teeth. Use a small amount of toothpaste on a soft toddler toothbrush to clean all surfaces of the teeth. After your child turns 3, they should start using a pea-size amount of toothpaste to brush their teeth.
The best toothpaste for a 2-year-old or 3-year-old is the same toothpaste you would use for your baby. It should be fluoride-free and SLS-free and should have hydroxyapatite to strengthen enamel.
A simple manual toothbrush is wonderful for babies and toddlers. But, as your child gets to preschool age and older, electric toothbrushes can be a great way to get them excited about brushing their teeth, especially if they’re into tech and toys.
Diet: The Key to Healthy Teeth
Choosing the right toothpaste is important, but brushing teeth isn’t the only factor in your little one’s dental health.
Dental health actually starts with what you put in your body. If your child isn’t getting the nutrients they need, that can affect their mouth and teeth. In fact, diet is the foundation for oral care — though it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
It’s essential to eat an all-around healthy diet packed with whole foods, but here are a few nutrition tips to follow for optimal oral health:
Eliminate refined carbohydrates: One of the key changes you can make in your child’s diet is eliminating refined sugar and flour. Refined carbohydrates like chips, crackers, and cookies cause cavity-causing bacteria to release a surge of acid that erodes tooth enamel.
Calcium: The enamel of your teeth is made of calcium phosphate. Your body needs calcium to keep your enamel strong and to help fight tooth decay.
Vitamin D3: Our bodies need vitamin D3 to absorb calcium properly.
Vitamin K2: Vitamin K2 works alongside vitamin D3 to bring calcium into your teeth and bones.
Probiotics: A healthy oral microbiome (good bacteria in your mouth) is beneficial to the health of your mouth. Probiotics will help you support these good microbes.
If you’re breastfeeding or pregnant, be sure you’re taking good care of your own diet to ensure they’re getting essential nutrients as teeth grow. Teeth begin forming long before the teething stage.
What To Look For When Shopping For Natural Toothpaste
If you’re interested in switching to something more natural, Dr. Stanley recommends looking for something that still contains fluoride. (The American Dental Association doesn’t put its seal on toothpaste products that do not contain a certain amount of fluoride.) “Fluoride is the only natural ingredient that has a proven track record of preventing cavities,” says Dr. Stanley. “Toothpaste without fluoride cannot do a better job of giving you a healthy smile (or fighting cavities) than toothpaste with fluoride.”
Still, there are many people who are interested in toothpastes that don’t contain fluoride, so if you do want to use something that’s fluoride-free, Dr. Stanley recommends using it in the morning and using a product with fluoride in it at night to make sure you’re not opening yourself up to cavities.
Other natural ingredients to keep an eye out for are aloe vera (which helps prevent gum disease), coconut oil, salt and tea tree oil. If you’re looking for a good natural whitening solution, try anything with baking soda, she says.