Dental Health

Caring for your baby's teeth 


Early Childhood Tooth Decay (ECTD)

Dental Program for Children

Caring for your baby's teeth

Plaque grows in your baby's mouth even before the first tooth appears. Now is the time to start good hygiene habits. Healthy teeth will help your baby to eat, talk, and smile. They will also help to hold a place for adult teeth.   

How to clean your baby's teeth:

  • Wipe your baby's gums in the morning and night (or more) with a clean washcloth.
  • As soon as your baby's teeth appear, brush them at least twice a day. Use a small, soft toothbrush and only use tap water. Do not use toothpaste to brush your baby's teeth.
  • Once a month, lift your baby's top lip to check for cavities. Look at the front and back of the top four teeth. Make sure to check around the gum line. If you see white or brown spots, take your baby to the dentist.
  • Begin flossing once a day when your child has teeth that are touching.

Tips to keep your baby's teeth healthy:

  • Your baby's first visit to the dentist should occur at one year old, or when the first teeth appear. You can find a dentist that accepts babies, by consulting with friends and family or by visiting the Ottawa Dental Society webpage. 
  • If your baby falls asleep while feeding, remove the nipple. Then place your baby in the crib on its back.
  • If your baby sleeps with a bottle, only use water.
  • When your baby can sit up alone, give your baby water to drink in a plastic cup.
  • If your baby uses a bottle, wean by 9 to 12 months.
  • If your baby uses a sippy cup, only use for water.
  • If your baby uses a soother, never put it in your own mouth. This will pass bacteria that cause cavities.
  • Avoid sharing utensils with your baby.
  • Never dip a soother in syrup, honey, or other sweeteners. This can cause cavities.
  • Active supervision is important to protect your baby. Injuries to your baby's teeth can occur from falls.


Teething is the natural process of teeth working their way through the jaw bone and cutting through the gums. The first tooth will usually come in at 6 to 10 months.

Signs that your baby is teething:

  • Change in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Urge to chew and bite
  • Irritability
  • Excessive drooling

Usual time for primary teeth to appear

  • Each child is different and may not follow the exact time chart
  • The first tooth normally comes in between 6 and 10 months
  • By age 2 ½ to 3 years, children usually have 20 baby teeth
  • At about 6 years of age a child starts toget their permanent (adult) teeth. The 1st adult molar grows in behind the babyteeth

Upper teeth

  • Central incisors: 7-12 months
  • Lateral incisors: 9-13 months
  • Canines (cuspids): 16-22 months
  • First molars: 13-19 months
  • Second molars: 25-33 months

Lower teeth

  • Central incisors: 6-10 months
  • Lateral incisors: 7-16 months
  • Canines (cuspids): 16-23 months
  • First molars: 12-18 months
  • Second molars: 20-31 months

What you can do to care for your teething child:

  • Massage your baby's irritated or swollen gums with a clean finger.
  • Chill a wet cloth in the refrigerator. Use the chilled cloth to massage your baby's gums.
  • Offer your baby a safe and chilled teething ring. Make sure the teething ring is not frozen.
  • Do not use gum numbing gels on your baby. Over-the-counter baby numbing gels can numb your baby's entire mouth and throat. This can interfere with your baby's swallowing and may result in choking.
  • Do not give teething biscuits to your baby. They are high in sugar and can cause cavities, especially in new baby teeth. Teething biscuits also get soft and mushy. This can become a choking hazard for your baby.
  • Caution: If your child has a fever, runny nose or diarrhea, these are not typical signs of teething. Call your doctor.

Early Childhood Tooth Decay

Early Childhood Tooth Decay (ECTD) are cavities found in children younger than 6 years of age. This is usually found in the upper front teeth.

At birth, babies have few germs in their mouth that cause cavities. ECTD can develop when:

  • Parents and caregivers share utensils with their child.
  • Babies or young children are exposed to liquids that contain sugar. During the feeding, the sugar in liquids combines with germs in the mouth. This can produce an acid that may damage the tooth's hard outer layer (enamel). This can lead to cavities.
  • If you see white or brown spots on your baby's teeth, take your child to the dentist.

Prevent ECTD:

  • Lift your baby's top lip to check for cavities. Do this at least once a month.
  • Wipe your baby's gums with a clean washcloth in the morning, at night and after feeding.
  • If your baby falls asleep while feeding, remove the nipple before placing your baby to sleep in the crib on its back.
  • If your baby sleeps with a bottle, only use water.
  • As soon as your baby's teeth appear, brush them at least twice a day with a small, soft toothbrush with only tap water. Do not use toothpaste.
  • Avoid sharing utensils with your baby. If your baby uses a soother, never put it in your mouth.
  • Offer tap water to your child between meals.
  • Visit a dentist with your baby by one year old.

Dental Program for Children

Good oral health is important to children's overall health. The cost of dental treatment can be difficult for many families who do not have dental coverage. The Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO) program offers free dental care. This program is for children from birth to 17 years in low-income families. 

Canada Dental Benefit

The interim Canada Dental Benefit is intended to help lower dental costs for eligible families.  Parents and guardians can apply if the child receiving dental care is under 12 years old and does not have access to a private dental insurance plan. 

For more information and to apply for Canada Dental Benefit, visit Canada Dental Benefit or call 1-800-715-8836.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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