When it comes to caring for a new baby, there’s a lot to learn. Sure, you know that you’re supposed to feed them regularly and change their diaper as needed — but what about the less-obvious stuff? Like, is giving them a bath every day a good idea, or is keeping them squeaky-clean bad for their sensitive baby skin? Or, at what point you can take your baby’s smiles as a signal that they’re content, instead of just gassy? These questions can also include oral hygiene. Babies don’t have teeth to brush, but you still probably need to clean their mouth somehow, right? What about their tiny baby tongue? Well, wonder no more, because we’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know about how to clean a baby’s tongue, including tips and precautions for getting the job done.
Why You Need to Clean a Baby’s Tongue
Even though newborns don’t have teeth, it’s still important to clean their little mouths starting at the very beginning. Just like adults, babies’ mouths are full of bacteria: some good, some unwanted. But while we have plenty of saliva to help keep the less-desirable bacteria at bay (plus other oral hygiene tools), babies don’t. This makes it difficult for them to wash away the milky residue that builds up in their mouths and on their tongues (that’s that weird white coating) after they’ve enjoyed a meal. And that’s where we, as parents or other caregivers, come in.
When we clean a baby’s tongue, it loosens up and then removes the milk residue. Plus, the whole process gets a baby used to the idea that you reaching into their mouth to clean it is going to be a regular occurrence. This, in turn, is supposed to make it a little easier to introduce a toothbrush to their oral hygiene routine later on. And, while you’re in there, you may want to consider cleaning and massaging their gums, which may make teething a little less horrible when that time comes.
How to Clean a Baby’s Tongue
First things first: Wash your hands before sticking them into your baby’s mouth. Then wrap gauze or a clean washcloth around your finger and moisten it with warm water. Technically, you can buy baby tongue cleaners at a medical supply store if you really want to, but the stuff you already have at home works just as well. And also, there’s no need to use toothpaste or glycerin when you clean a baby’s mouth during their first six months. (After that, consult with your dentist and/or pediatrician.)
Before going in, make sure that your baby is resting in a comfortable position, cradled in one of your arms. (Your other arm/hand will be the one doing the tongue cleaning.) From here, carefully open the baby’s mouth, put your wet gauzed finger in, and gently scrape their tongue in a circular motion. And, as long as you’re in there, you should also softly rub their gums and the inside of their cheeks. You’re going to need to do this at least once a day, preferably after they’ve eaten.
What to Do If Baby Has Thrush
At some point, you may need to know how to clean a baby’s tongue when they have thrush, an oral fungal infection. Unlike milk residue, which typically wipes right off a baby’s tongue, the white film caused by thrush stays put. And, ultimately, it requires an anti-fungal treatment prescribed by your pediatrician. So if you ever notice that your baby’s tongue is always white, it’s time to call the doctor — they’ll get you sorted with the medication your little one needs.