I still remember when my kids lost their first baby teeth. While each child lost their teeth at different times, the routine was the same. Before bed we would slip the tooth in a plastic baggie and place it under their pillow. The next morning, each of my children had a small gift from the tooth fairy.

As a pediatric dentist, I had been on the lookout for my kids’ first loose teeth. But as a mom, I still wasn’t quite ready for my “babies” to reach this milestone.

While the first visit from the tooth fairy is a big milestone, keeping teeth clean and healthy starts well before then. That’s why I’ve put together this guide to caring for your child’s baby teeth so you are fully prepared for your first visit from the tooth fairy. (Well, maybe not emotionally prepared, but at least well-prepared!)

Caring for teeth | Ages 0 – 3

When do babies start to get teeth?

Children have 20 primary teeth (better known as baby teeth). These can begin to show as early as 6 months old, but each child is unique. Girls’ teeth usually come in a little earlier than boys’ do. By 3 years old, most kids have all of their primary teeth.

When should I start brushing my child’s teeth?

Brushing your child’s teeth should begin when they get their first tooth. Use a small, soft toothbrush or washcloth twice a day. Start with water or a fluoride-free toothpaste. You can start using a toothpaste with fluoride in it around 3 years of age – and then, just use a smear.

Once enough teeth have come in that they’re touching, it’s time to start flossing. This can be tough for some parents, but plastic flossing tools can help make it easier. I’ve even seen dinosaur-shaped flossing tools out there!

Why do I need to brush my child’s baby teeth?

While baby teeth will fall out, they’re still important. Healthy baby teeth support the health, spacing and alignment of the permanent teeth that come in after them. Children with tooth decay are more likely to have ear and sinus infections and develop conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Healthy teeth help children speak quickly and clearly, too, which gives them more confidence.

When does my child need to visit the dentist?

Decay and cavities can start at a very young age. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that kids should be seen by their first birthday, or within 6 months of their first tooth coming in. During these visits, we’ll examine your child’s soft tissues, gums and jaws. The earlier your child sees a dentist, the more likely they are to have good oral health in the future.

Caring for teeth | Ages 4 – 6

When do children start to lose their baby teeth?

Children usually lose their first tooth around 5 or 6 years old. Much like the song “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” their front teeth will often be the first to fall out. Again, though, each child is unique and some will lose their first tooth as early as 4 or as late as 7.

Children will continue to lose their baby teeth through age 12, usually. The baby teeth fall out to make room for permanent teeth. There are normally 32 permanent teeth.

What are the best ways to clean and care for the permanent teeth coming in?

Permanent teeth are just that – permanent. And that means it’s important to practice good oral health so they can last a lifetime. Brush twice a day and floss your child’s teeth daily. You should also be taking your child to the dentist regularly. We can partner with you to create a plan that helps keep your child’s mouth healthy. A balanced diet is also important. Limit sugar, especially in fluids and in sticky, chewy sweet things like fruit snacks.

Is there anything specific I should look out for?

Regular visits to the dentist can help catch issues before they arise. It is important to watch the order that your child’s permanent teeth are coming in at. A change in the order that teeth come in may indicate a problem. It could, for instance, be a sign of infection or there not being enough space for a tooth to come in. If you’re ever concerned, talk to your dentist.

Is there anything my child should do when the first tooth falls out – apart from putting it under their pillow?

Many children won’t feel anything when their teeth fall out. But the gum may bleed a bit once the tooth falls out. Usually, swishing the mouth out with water can take care of bleeding. But if the bleeding continues, have your child bite down on gauze. If bleeding lasts more than an hour, it’s best to contact your dentist.

Once all those baby teeth fall out, it’s important to take good care of the permanent teeth coming in. Find a dentist near you and make sure to set up regular visits to assess your child’s dental health. The better your child’s dental hygiene is, the more prepared they’ll be for the next big milestone – braces!

Considering dental insurance? If you’re not part of a company plan, check out the different dental plans HealthPartners offers to find dental insurance that fits your needs. If you’re working for a company that offers dental insurance, we also have tools you can use that help when choosing a plan.