Managing your child’s oral health from zero to thirty-two

Written by Heather Siler

Attention to oral health should begin the minute your baby is born because bacteria starts forming in the mouth from day one. Your child will also go through many oral developmental stages, so it’s important to be prepared.   Following is a guide to help navigate the transition from zero to thirty-two teeth.  

Birth- Tooth Eruption-

  • Gently wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, damp washcloth after feedings and at bedtime
  • Wash the cloth after each use
  • Don’t use any pastes or gels for cleaning the gums

Tooth Eruption-3 years

  • Gently brush your child’s teeth with an age-appropriate brush that’s approved by the American Dental Association (ADA)
  • Use a gel “toothpaste” formulated for infants and toddler’s that are approved by the ADA
  • Don’t use any toothpaste formulated for kids or adults
  • Don’t use any product with fluoride until around age two and follow the directions to the letter
  • Begin flossing when their teeth are in contact with one another
  • The first dental appointment should be around age two

4-6 years of age

  • All primary teeth should be present
  • At four, your child can start brushing their teeth with your guidance
  • Use an age-appropriate toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste approved by the ADA
  • Floss for them until age six. Then, they can use over-the-counter flossers designed for children
  • Primary front teeth will loosen around 5-6 years
  • The first adult molars (6-year-old molars) will begin to erupt behind the last tooth in each quadrant
  • They should be going to the dentist for cleanings and exams every six months and receiving proper brushing instruction, x-rays, fluoride treatments, and sealants on permanent molars
  • At six years old, it may be prudent to add an over-the-counter fluoride rinse under very close supervision. Consult with your dentist

7-12 years of age

  • Developmental changes are taking place
  • Your child will have a “mixed dentition” which means that they have baby and adult teeth in their mouth at the same time
  • Orthodontic appliances are likely
  • During this period, power brushes are helpful because of orthodontics and having different sized teeth
  • It’s imperative that they see the dentist every six months or as recommended
  • It’s very common to have poor oral health during this stage, so remind them of the need to brush and floss at least twice daily
  • An over-the-counter fluoride rinse is usually necessary due to poor oral hygiene
  • Sealants are highly recommended and placed by your dentist or hygienist
  • Around age seven, they should have the manual dexterity to brush and floss on their own, but you should still check after them

13-16 years of age

  • All permanent teeth should be erupted by age fifteen except for the third molars (wisdom teeth) which may or may not erupt until age 16-20
  • Your child will become more and more independent, but their oral hygiene may not be so great
  • It’s often difficult to keep up with brushing and flossing because of their age and shifts in their attitude. Sometimes, it’s best to have the dental team talk with them and encourage them to stay diligent with their oral care
  • They must be seen by a dentist every six months or as recommended
  • An over-the-counter fluoride rinse is most likely necessary
  • It’s highly probable that they will be going through some type of orthodontic treatment
  • Sealants are recommended and placed by your dentist or hygienist


  • During this time, your child has most likely finished orthodontic treatment and is in the maintenance phase. Retainers must be worn until further notice from the orthodontist, or the teeth will relapse
  • If recommended, wisdom teeth are usually ready for extraction
  • Going off to college is in the near future, and oral hygiene usually declines
  • Include toothbrushes, toothpaste, and over-the-counter fluoride rinse in their essentials and care packages
  • Although tricky due to scheduling, make sure they have a dental cleaning and exam every six months

There will be difficulties along the way, but being a good example to your child with your oral care routine will instill proper habits that will last a lifetime.