Having a baby is one of life’s greatest joys. As a parent, you get the benefit of watching this sweet little thing that you created (or helped create) learn and grow and take its place in the world. However, that last part doesn’t come until much later; you’ve got to get the basics down before you move on to the big leagues!

Approximately 35% of women who have babies in America are over the age of 30; if you’ve got a newborn — or are very close to having a newborn — you probably have a lot of questions. And a messed up sleep schedule. Considering most babies don’t start sleeping through the night until around three months of age, make sure you’re resting before getting your answers. Although there are thousands of parenting books out there to choose from, a good chunk of being a parent involves discovery in the moment and trial by error; here are some tips regarding your baby’s dental hygiene to help you through their teething process with as little error as possible.

When To Start

Obviously, babies aren’t born with teeth. This means that brushing and general dental hygiene doesn’t need to begin until your infant’s first tooth pokes through their gums, which is around the time your child turns 6 months old. Use a clean, damp washcloth, a gauze pad, or a finger brush to gently wipe clean the first teeth and the front of the tongue after meals and at bedtime.

Toothpaste can be used as the rest of their teeth begin to come in, but only in very small amounts; use a rice-grain-sized smear for your baby or toddler, and upgrade to a pea-sized dollop by age three. It’s important to note that you should not be using fluoride toothpaste until your child is two years old unless your dentist tells you to. As for dental visits, those should begin by age one or within six months after the first tooth erupts.

At-Home Care

We know as adults that good dental hygiene goes beyond brushing and trips to your local dentists. Anything that babies put in their mouths — from food to toys — has an impact on their oral health. For this very reason, diet is extremely important; once your child is one year old, they should only be drinking water or plain milk in between meals as flavored drinks often have a lot of sugar in them. However, it’s important to be aware of allergies; around 5.3% of children aged 12 to 17 years had food allergies in the past year, and an estimated 6% of babies have full-fledged food allergies. Since milk can be a potential problem, pay attention to how your baby handles it.

Additional Tips

The trick here is to establish habits that will stay with your children as they grow up. By caring diligently for their teeth as babies, you give a head start in the oral hygiene race and set a good example on how they need to continue through their lives. Only 127.6 million U.S. adults visited a dentist in 2017 — in a country of 327 million, that number is not high enough. If you want your child to be responsible and care about their teeth and smile through adulthood, you have to show them how!