Dental Care From 6 Months to 3 Years

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Topic Overview

Your baby's first tooth usually breaks through the gum (erupts) at about 6 months. Many times you might not know that your baby has a new tooth coming in until you see it or hear it click against an object, such as a spoon. Some babies may show signs of discomfort from sore and sensitive gums, be cranky, drool, and have other mild symptoms. These symptoms usually begin about 3 to 5 days before a tooth erupts and go away as soon as the tooth breaks through the gum. For more information, see the topic Teething.

Experts recommend that your child's visits to a dentist start within 6 months after the first teeth appear or at 12 months of age, whichever comes first.footnote 1 Babies with dental problems caused by injury, disease, or a developmental problem should be seen by a dentist right away. A children's dentist (pediatric dentist) is specially trained to treat these problems. If these dental problems are not limited to the surfaces of the teeth, your baby should also be seen by a children's doctor (pediatrician) or your family doctor. For more information, see the topics Mouth and Dental Injuries and Mouth Problems, Non-injury.

Healthy habits for good oral health:

  • Use a clean, damp, soft cloth to clean your baby's gums. Start a few days after birth, and do this until the first teeth come in.
  • When your child's first teeth come in, clean them with a soft toothbrush. It's ok to use a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • If you bottle-feed, do not put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, formula, or other sugary liquid. The opportunity for tooth decay to develop increases while these liquids stay in the mouth (bottle mouth). Do not prop the bottle up in your baby's mouth. Remove the bottle as soon as your baby is done feeding or is asleep.
  • Breastfeeding your infant to sleep is safe. You can start offering liquids from a cup when your baby is about 6 months old.
  • Young children get and give lots of kisses. But saliva contains bacteria that can cause tooth decay. You can help prevent early childhood tooth decay in your child by making sure that your family practices good dental health habits. If a family member has gum problems, he or she may transfer the bacteria to your baby. Talk to your family about this.
  • Give your child nutritious foods to maintain healthy gums, develop strong teeth, and avoid tooth decay. These include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Try to avoid foods that are high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, such as pastries, pasta, and white bread.
  • Discuss your child's fluoride needs with your dentist or oral health professional. If your child needs extra fluoride, your dentist may recommend a supplement or a gel or varnish that he or she would apply to your child's teeth. Use supplements only as directed. And keep them out of reach of your child.

Keep your child away from cigarette smoke (second-hand smoke). Tobacco smoke may contribute to the development of tooth decay and gum disease.footnote 2

Related Information



  1. Canadian Dental Association (2005, reaffirmed 2012). CDA position on first visit to the dentist. Canadian Diabetes Association. Available online: Accessed November 11, 2014.
  2. American Dental Association (2009). ADA policy on cigarettes and other tobacco products . Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerArden Christen, DDS, MSD, MA, FACD - Dentistry

Current as ofMay 9, 2017