For most children, teeth begin to erupt at approximately the age of 6 months. Experts recommend that parents take their child to visit a dentist no more than 6 months after the first tooth has erupted or before the child's first birthday, whichever occurs first. This visit may occur earlier if the child's pediatrician believes him or her to be at risk of dental problems.
Home dental care, however, begins long before the child first enters the dental office. Days after birth, a parent can begin to clean the child's gums with a soft, clean cloth. When teeth begin to erupt, the parent may graduate to a soft toothbrush. After the child's third birthday, the parent can begin to use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, though paste use may be advisable before age 3 if a dentist so advises.
Once the child is 3 years old, he or she can start learning to brush his or her own teeth. The parent should continue to supervise, however, both to ensure thoroughness and to help prevent the child from swallowing the toothpaste. Parents can also coach children in good brushing techniques and, as soon as the teeth touch, in the proper way to floss.