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Age-by-Age Guide to Baby's Dental Health

Your baby's smile is one the most precious things about her. Even though her first set of teeth is just temporary, each tooth is important. Tooth decay can cause infections that could make baby sick, and losing baby teeth too soon can affect the way adult teeth come in and may lead to speech-development problems. So even before that first tooth pop through her gums, you should be preparing for their arrival.

Prep Work: 0 to 6 Months
Baby teeth can arrive anywhere between 3 and 12 months, though the average is closer to 6 months. Teeth are formed in utero, so those prenatal vitamins you took (they contain tooth-friendly minerals like calcium and phosphorus) play a role in your baby's tooth development.
What to watch for You might see some discoloration of the gum where the tooth is going to pop up (called an eruption cyst). It's nothing to worry about. A newly erupting tooth maybe preceded by a bruise (hematoma) or an eruption cyst. Both disappear as the new tooth emerges. The hematoma is more common than the cyst.
What you should do Get into the habit of wiping your little one's gums with a finger brush, a piece of gauze or a clean washcloth. Before a tooth breaks the surface, there may be a small opening in the gum where bacteria can hide and cause a cavity. When that little tooth does poke out, clean it with a washcloth or baby toothbrush moistened with water. Do it after your baby's morning meal and before bed so it becomes part of his regular routine. The last thing in your baby's mouth before bed should be a toothbrush or water.
Seeing a dentist A visit to the dentist should happen within six months of the appearance of the first tooth, so start checking around now for a dentist who is comfortable taking care of young children. Ask your friends and your pediatrician for recommendation. Consider pediatric dentists and those in a family dental practice.

Here They Come: 6 to 12 Months
By your baby's first birthday, she will probably have at least a couple of teeth and perhaps as many as eight. They tend to show up in this order: lower central incisors, upper central incisors and lower lateral incisors.
What to watch for Be on the lookout for tight teeth, which have no space in between and will need flossing. (Your baby's dentist can show you how; adult floss is fine to use.)
What you should do If your baby's emerging teeth bother her, offer her your finger or a chilled teething ring, gently massage her gums with gauze or a washcloth, or ask the doctor about giving a dose of an infant pain reliever.
Seeing a dentist Research shows that children who begin dental care by age 1 have fewer fillings than those whose parents wait until age 2 or 3. Getting to know a dentist at this age will help baby be more comfortable with him or her in the future, and you will get helpful guidance about how to manage habits (pacifiers and thumb-sucking, for instance) as well as tips on what to do if your baby bumps a tooth.

More to Brush: 12 to 18 Months
If your baby still hasn't gotten a single tooth by 15 months, ask his pediatrician to check his gums; a doctor can usually feel the teeth just below the surface and may suggest that you rub baby's gums to help them emerge.
What to watch for As children's teeth come in, they may start grinding them. Part of this is just a 1-year-old's pleasure in making new noises with his body, but it could also be a sign of frustration or discomfort. Check to see whether he's tired, too hot or too cold or has a stuffy nose.
What you should do Start using a child's soft-bristle toothbrush. Skip the toothpaste or use a fluoride-free toddler brand. (Swallowing fluoride can cause fluorosis.) Let your child "help" with the brushing -- you brush a bit, and then he does some.
Seeing a dentist If your child has not yet seen a dentist, make the appointment now. The dentist will answer any questions you have about your child's teeth, may recommend using a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste, and may put fluoride varnish on his teeth to keep them healthy.