Facts about your baby's teeth

When your baby is born, the first set of teeth is almost completely formed inside the jaws and under the gums. At this time, the permanent teeth are just beginning to form.

Your baby's first set of teeth is important for the following reasons:

  • Chewing food helps develop bones and muscles.
  • Teeth give your baby a nice appearance and smile.
  • Teeth help your baby learn to talk.
  • The first set of teeth saves space for the permanent teeth to grow in straight.

As soon as a baby's teeth erupt, parents should keep them clean.

Fluoride is one of the most important factors in preventing tooth decay. Because the amount of fluoride in water varies with each community and with different sources of drinking water, consult with your pediatric dentist for advice regarding your child's need for fluoride supplementation.

Many of a baby’s dietary habits, likes, and dislikes are formed during the first two years of life, when parents have the greatest influence over the diet.

Your baby's dental development

Although the first tooth appears around six months of age, the baby’s first set of primary teeth (“baby teeth”) is nearly completely formed at birth. Birth also marks the beginning of the formation of a baby’s permanent teeth. This process will continue for the next 13 years or so. During tooth formation, proper health and an optimal fluoride program offer the best chance for healthy teeth. Your pediatric dentist can assist you in promoting optimal dental development.


The eruption of the first few teeth is sometimes associated with symptoms that are referred to as “teething.” Symptoms of sore gums, restlessness, irritability and disruption of eating and sleeping habits may be present, which may upset the digestive system and result in loose stools. However, serious health problems do not arise from teething. A sick child should be evaluated by a physician and not be passed off as “just teething.” If your infant experiences difficulties, contact your pediatric dentist for advice and recommendations.

Your baby’s diet

Once teeth have erupted, bacteria can produce acid from the sugars that are present in the diet. Frequent sugar intake and sugary foods that remain in the mouth for prolonged period of time are the primary causes of tooth decay.

Bottle feeding

Both formula and milk contain sugar, which can be harmful once teeth begin erupting. It is important to avoid letting your baby develop the habit of sleeping with a bottle at night or at nap time. The bottle should be used for feeding purposes only and not as a pacifier.

Breast feeding

While you are nursing, it is important to maintain a well-balanced diet. The severe form of tooth decay called “nursing caries,” which results from the improper use of the bottle, can occur with improper breast feeding practices as well. Once teeth have erupted it is important to follow a reasonable feeding schedule and avoid prolonged feedings, such as allowing the infant to nurse all night, which can occur while sleeping with the infant.

Solid foods & snacks

Between three and six months of age, you will be gradually introducing your baby to solid foods. Dietary habits are established during the first few years. Choose foods carefully and avoid those that contain large amounts of added sugar. Vegetables and fruits contain all the natural sugar a baby needs. The ingredients listed on commercial baby food labels appear in order of usage. It is easy to select store-bought foods that do not include added sugar as a major ingredient. It is not necessary or desirable to add sugar to baby foods. If you prepare your own baby foods, do not add sugar or salt.

Snacks for toddlers and older children should be low in sugar and should not include sticky foods that remain in the mouth for long periods of time, such as chewy candies and raisins. Foods like vegetables, fruits, cheese and unsweetened fruit juices are accepted by children who have not formed the habit of eating snacks.

Oral habits

Thumb sucking

Sucking is a natural, normal desire and need for the infant. Considerable satisfaction is derived from sucking during the first year of life; an infant should not be discouraged. However, if the habit persists beyond four or five years of age, consult your pediatric dentist for advice regarding its effect on oral development, if any, and recommendations for management.


A pacifier is not necessary for every child. Controversy exists whether using a thumb or pacifier is better. The decision should be left to the parents, or in many cases, the infant. If you feel your baby needs a pacifier, ask your pediatric dentist or physician for the correct style. Avoid putting sweets on the pacifier to encourage its use.

Cleaning of the teeth

As soon as the teeth erupt, bacteria begin to accumulate in the mouth and may combine with sugar to form acid. Along with limiting foods that contain sugar, cleaning an infant’s teeth should begin when the first tooth erupts. Initially, the teeth may be wiped with a piece of gauze or a clean washcloth. Your pediatric dentist can demonstrate the proper technique for cleaning an infant’s teeth, advise you regarding the need to floss, and assist you in mastering the technique.

Dental injuries

Falls, bumps and bruises are a normal part of the growing-up process for infants and children. Injuries to the mouth and teeth are quite common between the ages of twelve to eighteen months, when the infant is learning to walk. Any injury that causes bleeding, doesn’t stop easily, or results in tooth fractures or teeth being intruded, should be evaluated by a pediatric dentist. Frequently, all that will be required following an injury is close observation. However, this can only be determined by having the injury examined.

Your child’s dental health

With current knowledge and technology, it is possible to prevent tooth decay in children. However, a proper preventative program must be given in infancy, and the efforts need to be consistent and continuous to be effective. You and your child should visit a pediatric dentist by the time your child reaches one year of age, to receive information on beginning a proper preventative program.

The Department of Pediatric Dentistry at The University of Iowa College of Dentistry recognizes the great benefit and the importance of early evaluation and caries prevention in infants, along with the need to provide important preventative information to parents.