- To clean your newborn’s tongue, you should first wash your hands and then take a small piece of moist cloth or gauze around your finger and use it to gently rub the surface of the tongue in circular motions.
- A newborn’s gums and tongue should be cleaned after every feeding.
- If the white buildup in their mouths will not come off with cleaning, consult a doctor to check for a condition called thrush.
Your baby may not be born with any teeth, but their mouths still need a good cleaning on a regular basis. Here’s what you need to know about cleaning your newborn’s tongue.
Why your baby has a white tongue
In the days and weeks after your baby is born, you may notice that your baby’s tongue looks white after feeding.
A common cause of white residue is a buildup of milk. Infants don’t have as much saliva as older children and adults so there is less liquid in their mouths to wash away milk from the tongue.
“If a newborn’s tongue is not cleaned, microorganisms begin to colonize within its grooves,” says Preetika Chandna, a pediatric dentist and researcher who studies infant oral health. Cleaning away excess milk or food particles can help prevent a build-up of bacteria that could potentially cause gum disease.
However, don’t mistake your baby’s white tongue for another condition called thrush. Some newborns may pick up Candida, the same fungus found in a yeast infection, during the process of birth. This shows up in the mouth as white patches on the lips, tongue, or inner cheeks called thrush. If your baby has thrush, they will need to be treated by a doctor.
How to clean your baby’s tongue
To clean your baby’s tongue, there are more than a few important steps:
- Wash your hands to make sure they are clean.
- Take a small piece of cloth or gauze and wrap it around your finger.
- Moisten the cloth with warm water.
- Hold the baby in one arm and use the other hand to softly open the baby’s mouth.
- Place your finger on the baby’s tongue and gently rub the surface of the tongue in a circular shape.
- After the tongue is clean, rub the gums and insides of the baby’s cheeks.
- If the buildup will not come off with cleaning, consult a doctor to check for thrush.
“A newborn’s gums and tongue should be cleaned after every feed,” says Chandna, adding that you can also use soft silicone “finger brushes” designed to be worn on your finger after the baby is at least eight weeks old.
Introducing a toothbrush and toothpaste
You can either continue using a finger brush or introduce a toothbrush once your baby’s first tooth comes in, at around six months of age. It’s best to start with a child-sized brush with soft bristles. At this stage, you should not use toothpaste — just add water to the brush.
You can start to use toothpaste once your child is two years old. Start them off with a tiny smear of fluoride-free toothpaste on the toothbrush. You can increase it to a pea-sized amount by the time they turn three.
You should use fluoride-free toothpaste until your child learns to spit out the toothpaste instead of swallowing it. Because swallowing too much fluoride can upset children’s stomachs and cause damage to teeth. Pediatricians generally recommend using fluoride-free toothpaste until age three.
You can start teaching a child to brush their own teeth as soon as they develop enough hand coordination to hold a toothbrush steady. By age six or seven, kids should be able to brush their teeth without any supervision. However, “children experiencing developmental delays may require assistance while tooth brushing at all ages,” Chandna says.