To many of us, cleaning teeth is the be-all and end-all of oral hygiene. But good oral hygiene also means taking care of other parts of the mouth too, including the tongue and gums. And this counts especially for babies – after all, they don’t have teeth when they’re very young! In fact, your baby’s tongue occupies centerstage now as they use backward and forward movements of the tongue to suckle. And if you’re wondering how to go about cleaning your baby’s tongue, we’ve got some tips for you:
Start Early And Clean After Each Feeding
Caring for your baby’s oral hygiene needs to begin quite early, say, as soon as they are a few days old. Wipe your baby’s tongue and gums after you feed them and before putting them to bed.1
Cradle Baby Comfortably First
To clean your baby’s mouth, cradle with one arm. Position them comfortably with the head against your body so that they feel secure and you can see their mouth.2
Wipe Tongue With Gauze In Circular Movements
Now to get down to the job of actually cleaning your baby’s tongue!
- Take a piece of gauze or a soft, clean washcloth and dip it in warm water. Pour a few drops of water on your arm before using it to make sure the water’s not too hot and that it won’t irritate your baby’s tongue and mouth.
- Now wrap the piece of gauze around your index finger.
- Urge your baby to open their mouth by gently lowering the lower lip while you cradle them.
- Rub the gauze-wrapped finger very gently over your baby’s tongue in circular movements to clean it.3
Clean The Whole Mouth At One Go
Sometimes babies can get fussy when you try to clean their mouth. So it makes sense to clean the whole mouth at the same time and avoid repeating this process too often. Make sure that you wipe the inside of your baby’s cheeks, their gums, and the roof of their mouth too when you clean their tongue.4
Once Teeth Come, Clean Tongue Along With The Teeth
Babies typically get their first tooth between 6 and 14 months. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for babies and plain water to gently clean teeth, using circular motions at this point. Remember, it’s still too early for toothpaste!
Pull quote: Change your child’s toothbrush every 3 or 4 months.
It’s extremely important to lift your baby’s lips and brush both the front and back of their teeth as well as along the gum line to prevent tooth decay. But this doesn’t mean neglecting the rest of the mouth. You can use the brush to continue to clean your baby’s tongue and gums. Just be very gentle, avoiding any abrasive strokes. If your baby finds this uncomfortable, continue to use a piece of gauze for these areas.5 6
Persistent White Coating On The Tongue May Be Thrush
If you notice white creamy patches on your baby’s tongue or inside their mouth which can’t be cleaned (unlike milk residue), you’ll need to check if your baby has thrush. This is a fungal infection that may affect babies and mums during breastfeeding. It tends to develop after either the baby or the mother takes antibiotics. These medicines while tackling infections also tend to kill off beneficial bacteria that can prevent the overgrowth of fungus. Signs of thrush in the mother may include itchy, sensitive, or cracked nipples as well as pain in the breast or nipple.
Antifungal medicines are typically prescribed to treat thrush. Both the mum and the baby will need to be treated even if only one of them show symptoms as they’re likely to pass the infection back and forth between them. If you’re looking for a natural remedy, coconut oil has been found to be as effective as some antifungal medicines at tackling the fungus that causes thrush.7 Wipe thrush-affected areas with food grade coconut oil to clear up this infection – but only after doing a patch test to ensure that your baby’s not allergic to it.8
|↑1, ↑5||Brushing Your Child’s Teeth. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Dental care for babies. Raising Children Network.|
|↑3||Gupta, Seema. Baby Care & Child Health Problems. V&S Publishers, 2012.|
|↑4||Babies 0-1. NHS Trust.|
|↑6||Infant and Children’s Oral Health. Department of Health.|
|↑7||Shino, Beena, Faizal C. Peedikayil, Shyamala R. Jaiprakash, Gufran Ahmed Bijapur, Soni Kottayi, and Deepak Jose. “Comparison of antimicrobial activity of chlorhexidine, coconut oil, probiotics, and ketoconazole on Candida albicans isolated in children with early childhood caries: an in vitro study.” Scientifica 2016 (2016).|
|↑8||Thrush. NHS Foundation Trust.|