Caring for your little one's teeth starts well before they have all of their baby teeth. It even begins before the first tooth pops through the gums. Good dental hygiene is important to your baby’s overall health.

Start with these steps to help build good habits as they grow.

1. Wipe Your Baby’s Gums

Wrap your finger with a soft, wet washcloth or piece of gauze. It’s especially helpful to wipe the gums after feedings and before bedtime to wash away bacteria. Getting your baby used to having their gums wiped as part of a daily routine could help make for a smoother transition when it’s time to introduce a toothbrush.

2. Begin Using a Toothbrush When the First Teeth Appear

Most babies begin popping their first teeth through the gums at around six months of age. Select a toothbrush with soft bristles, a small head, and a grip that’s appropriate for your hand.

3. Use Water and Graduate to Toothpaste

Toothpaste isn’t necessary when the first tooth is just emerging from the gums. Use a wet toothbrush and introduce a fluoride toothpaste when the first tooth emerges. You’ll start with a very small amount (the size of a rice grain) and gradually increase to a pea-sized amount by the time they are three years old. Be sure to brush the front and back of all teeth.

4. Don’t Worry About Flossing Just Yet

Flossing isn’t really necessary until tooth surfaces touch and toothbrushes can’t reach between the teeth.

5. Be Prepared for Teething

Teething is a trying time for both babies and parents. The process is uncomfortable for babies in the weeks leading up to a tooth popping through the gums and can cause excess drooling, swollen gums, and a slight fever. Letting your baby chew on cool teething rings or cold washcloths can help. Massaging your child’s gums with your finger also provides comfort.

6. Prevent Cavities

You can start preventing cavities at this early stage of your child’s dental development. Only feed your baby breast milk, formula, or water. Avoid fruit juices and other sugary drinks. Schedule your child’s first dental checkup by age one.