Infant oral hygiene is often overlooked by new parents, but baby gum care is just, if not more, important than brushing once the first little teeth have arrived. To combat bacteria, promote healthy gum growth, and minimize discomfort during tooth eruption, gum massage and cleaning is essential, and can be started from birth. No need to worry about toothbrushes and toothpaste to start; a clean washcloth or sterile gauze, moistened with some water, can be used to wipe down an infant’s gums and the gentle massage action promotes blood flow to the gum line. Web MD recommends wiping down an infant’s gums at least twice daily, especially before bed, or after feeding. To maximize the cleaning impact of infant gum massage, try adding a little infant gum cleaner, like Nuk Infant Tooth and Gum Cleanser.

To increase gum stimulation when teething begins, a fingertip toothbrush is ideal. The thin plastic bristles are gentle enough for a baby’s delicate gums, yet strong enough, when used with an infant toothpaste, to care for the child’s emerging teeth. The brush fits right over the fingertip, allowing more control than a standard toothbrush inside the mouth. Another great option is a channel design first toothbrush to cup and rub infants’ gums. Regardless of choice, flexible plastic should be of utmost importance to avoid abrasions or cuts to the inside of the mouth. Again, cleaning the teeth of an infant is every bit as important as that of a young child or adult, try to do so after every feeding and at bedtime to ensure a healthy mouth.

At toddler time, a toothbrush with a small soft-bristled head is recommended. A large handle helps parents guide the brush with less slippage, and once the toddler is ready to brush for himself, it provides an easy-to-grip tool for learning. Once the child is old enough to hold the brush, parents should encourage independent tooth brushing, but with strict parental assistance. Double checking the child’s brushing, and going back over the teeth for plaque and particles they’ve missed will teach the child the importance of clean teeth and gums. Truly independent brushing usually begins around age six, but even then parents are encouraged to check and touch up their child’s work.