You might not worry too much about cleaning a child’s mouth until teething begins, but even infants need some measure of cleaning to avoid the buildup of food particles and bacteria that can threaten oral health, and even overall health. Up until the age where a child is able to brush, floss, and rinse alone (roughly the age of five), you’ll need to help out.
This begins with tongue cleaning, both before and after teeth begin to erupt. How is this accomplished? Here are a few pointers to get you started.
For Infants (up to age 1)
While it’s important to keep a baby’s mouth clean, you also have to remember that this is a sensitive job. At this age you don’t need any special tools – a bit of soft gauze and some warm (not hot) water should work fine. Once or twice a day should suffice.
This can be a somewhat delicate operation, so you’ll want to start by cradling your baby in your arms for comfort. Wrap the gauze around your pointer finger, dip it in warm water, and then put it on the lower lip to open the mouth. From there, you simply rub the tongue gently in a circular motion to remove leftover food particles and bacteria. Then rub the gums and cheeks.
If you have any problems, such as gagging, fussiness, or stuck-on gunk, simply talk to a dentist or other specialist about the best way to clean your child’s mouth. You may need to try different tactics, tools, or products.
Toddlers (up to age 5)
As babies turn into toddlers and their teeth come in, you’ll have to switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush for cleaning teeth, and after the age of about two, you can start adding toothpaste (once kids understand they’re not supposed to swallow it). Until your child develops the fine motor skills needed to brush and floss his/her own teeth, you’ll have to continue performing this task to ensure proper oral health.
It’s especially important to use soft, gentle strokes when you begin cleaning with a toothbrush, especially when it comes to brushing the tongue. The last thing you want to do is brush too hard and damage the taste buds. You may find that it’s easier to use a finger toothbrush early on so you have a little more control. This could also help you to avoid causing gagging.
Soon your child will be able to brush his/her own teeth, but until then you need to do all you can to promote good oral health and teach the proper means of brushing and flossing teeth, as well as keeping the tongue clean.