When your baby is born, their dental health is probably the last thing on your mind. After all, they don’t have teeth yet, and they can’t really eat any of the foods we eat. They drink breast milk or formula, so it seems odd to think that your baby’s mouth may need to be cleaned.
After you, your baby, and your family settle in and get used to the new routine, you may notice that there’s actually some formula or breast milk residue in your baby’s mouth after they finish eating.
Even though breast milk is great for your baby, leftover food in your little one’s milk can still affect their dental health. Their gums, tongue, and cheeks still need care, and it helps to prepare your baby for when you do start brushing their teeth.
Tongues especially need a lot of cleaning since it’s the primary tool they use to nurse. How do you clean your newborn’s tongue? We have a few tips for you to use.
Why Do I Need To Clean My Newborn’s Tongue?
Newborns can’t do much on their own. They’re uncoordinated, they’re small, and their muscles aren’t well developed. They’re good at eating, sleeping, and making messes in their diapers — all needing help. Mom and Dad need to bring them food, help them fall asleep, and change their diapers.
After feeding, there are a couple of things that parents need to do to help their babies. Babies need to be burped, and they need to have their tongues cleaned. Even though a baby’s mouth is cleaner than an adult's mouth, there can still be food remnants and bacteria lurking in their mouth that must be cleaned out.
Usually, our immune systems keep germs, like bacteria and fungus, in check, so they can’t really do much to our health. Babies, with their weaker immune systems, can get some help from breast milk or formula, but they need some extra assistance. Because the food particles and bacterias remain in the mouth, your little one can be at risk for some types of infections, like thrush.
Another reason that parents are encouraged to start dental care early is that it helps their babies get used to having their mouths cared for. It will make things much easier when you need to start brushing their newly grown-in teeth.
What Is Thrush?
Thrush is an oral yeast infection. Yeast is a type of fungus, and sometimes it grows in babies' mouths and is transferred to the mother’s breast if they are breastfeeding. Both fungi and bacteria normally dwell in our bodies, and our immune systems prevent them from causing problems.
Thrush likes moist and warm environments, like mouths and breasts. It often occurs after mothers and babies take antibacterials, which can often reduce the amount of good, helpful bacteria, causing yeast to grow.
If your little one has thrush, they’ll probably have a yeast infection in their diaper area at the same time since the yeast can get into the baby’s stool.
What Are the Symptoms of Thrush?
Although sometimes your baby may not feel anything, thrush can be fairly easy to identify.
It leads to symptoms like:
- Diaper rashes
- Mood changes
- Refusal to nurse
- White, velvet-like sores on the tongue and mouth
- Bleeding if the sores are wiped
- Redness in your baby’s mouth
Mothers will probably also notice it affecting their breasts if they’re breastfeeding. Usually, feedings will be painful, breasts may feel tender during and after nursing, and they may notice breasts are cracked, sore, and have a deep-pink color.
However, painful feedings can also be a sign of a bad latch or other issues, so if your baby isn’t showing any symptoms of thrush, you may need to talk to a lactation consultant and use nipple shields until the issue is corrected.
How Do I Help My Baby If They Have It?
Usually, thrush will run its course within a few days, so a baby may not need treatment. However, it is a smart idea to take your baby to the pediatrician so that they can advise you on the best course of action.
If your baby’s doctor thinks they may need antifungal medication, they will give you some that you can paint on their mouth and cheeks. If the mother’s breasts have been affected, they may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Mother and newborn baby will need to be treated around the same time so that you don’t pass it back and forth.
If thrush keeps coming back, you should talk to the pediatrician since it may mean your baby has other health issues.
What Do I Need To Clean My Baby’s Tongue?
You only need a couple of things to clean your baby’s tongue and mouth:
- A clean, soft cloth or gauze
- Warm water
Some parents may want to use a tongue cleaner that’s made for babies, but it’s not always necessary. The same thing applies to toothbrushes.
Traditional, adult toothpaste isn’t an option since newborns are too young. Instead, water can be used effectively. As your baby gets older, a dentist may recommend it if they find it necessary, but usually, it’s best to use alternatives until your baby is older.
How To Clean My Newborn’s Tongue
Newborns aren’t big fans of being poked and prodded, so cleaning their tongues may seem intimidating. We have a few tips that may be able to help. (It’s always a bright idea to wash your hands first — start there.)
Cradle Your Baby’s Head In Your Arms
When you’re cleaning your newborn’s teeth, they’re still going to need head support, so you will want to cradle them in your arm while you use your free hand to clean their mouth. They may also be more receptive to this new activity if they can feel you holding them.
It also gives you a bit more control over their heads so that they can stay where you need them to be.
Use Warm Water
Nobody likes the shock of cold water suddenly applied to them unless you’ve been working outside, perhaps, and your baby isn’t an exception. Their mouths are warm, and breast milk or formula is usually warm, so it’s much more comfortable for them if you use warm water.
You’ll want to dampen the cloth, tongue cleaner, or gauze that you’re using. It doesn’t need to be soaking wet, just a little damp, so it can clean your baby’s mouth without using too much water.
If you use a cloth or gauze, you’ll want to wrap it around a finger and then dip it and your finger in a little bit of water.
Wait for Your Baby’s Mouth To Open
Instead of trying to force your cloth-wrapped finger into your baby’s mouth, wait for your baby to open their mouth. If you place your finger near their mouth, your baby may start to slowly open their mouth, similar to when you’re trying to feed them.
When cleaning your baby’s tongue and mouth, you will want to be gentle. They don’t need their mouth scrubbed. All you need to do is wipe it; you don’t need a lot of force. Be careful of where you put your finger: You don’t want to accidentally cause your baby to gag.
Use Circular Motions
The best way to clean your baby’s tongue is to use a circular motion. It’ll help clean your baby’s mouth, and it will be more like a massage rather than wiping down the tongue a couple of times.
Don’t Forget the Gums and Inner Cheeks
When you’re cleaning your baby’s tongue, you may also want to gently clean their tongue and inner cheeks too. After all, bacteria and food can lurk anywhere. By using the same circular motions that you used for the tongue, you can help your baby have a squeaky clean mouth.
Your Baby’s Dental Health
Although newborns don’t usually have teeth, they still need their mouths cleaned after eating. We’re not saying you need to get started right after birth. We understand that you and your family have a lot to get used to, and you need some time before adding another task to the list.
However, it’s a good idea to start as soon as possible. Once you, your partner, and your baby are settled in, you may be ready to start cleaning your baby’s tongue. It’s a preemptive strike against infection and even tooth decay.
By starting early, your little one will get used to having their mouth cleaned, which means making the step to having their teeth brushed will be that much easier. At Mommy Care Kit, we understand that being a parent, especially if it’s your first time, isn’t always easy. In the end, though, it’s all worth it.
Brush, Scrape, And Clean Your Tongue | Hawaii Family Dental
Dental care for newborn baby teeth & gums | Raising Children Network