According to the American Dental Association (ADA), starting your baby off with good dental care can help protect their teeth for decades to come. A baby’s 20 primary teeth are already present in their gums at birth. “Baby teeth” begin to erupt through the gums as little buds at around six months, and these teeth help create the foundation for future smiles by keeping space in the jaw for primary, or adult, teeth. Primary teeth are important in speech development as well as chewing food properly and promoting healthy nutrition.
Caring for your child’s teeth: The ADA recommends that parents take children to their first dental visit no later than their first birthday. Here are some recommendations of how to take care of baby’s teeth at home and have healthy dental habits before their first appointment.
Parents can start cleaning their baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or soft baby washcloth. Continue this care through the first six months. A baby’s four front teeth usually push through the gums between six months and 12 to 14 months.
As soon as that first tooth appears, use a soft-bristled baby toothbrush or a baby washcloth to gently clean the gums and teeth after each feeding. Once you start seeing teeth come in, schedule a trip to a pediatric dentist who will look at your baby’s mouth and gums, and tell you the best way to clean your baby’s teeth to prevent tooth decay.
Believe it or not, babies can get cavities! The first rule to follow for good baby oral health is that babies should not take a bottle to bed. Breast milk, formula or cow’s milk after age one year, taken from the bottle can collect on the back of the upper teeth. That nutritious sustenance can mix with bacteria in the mouth, converting the sugar in milk into acid that can cause cavities.
To further help prevent tooth decay, avoid filling your baby's bottle with juices and other sugary drinks. Besides sugar, some drinks have caffeine which is a big NO for children. Fruit leather snacks, lollipops and gummy candies also stick to baby teeth and help cause tooth decay. And dentists prefer chewable vitamins instead of the sweet gummy variety.
According to the ADA, once your child’s baby teeth come in, brush them twice a day, morning and nighttime before bed, with a child-size soft bristle toothbrush and a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste. You can create good dental habits by teaching your child how to brush their own teeth and supervising their efforts. Before allowing your child to brush unsupervised, make sure they can spit out the toothpaste and not swallow it, as swallowing fluoride can cause dental fluorosis (appearing as harmless white specks on teeth to severe discoloration), which has been linked to thyroid problems and certain bone cancers. When your child has two teeth that touch, this is the time to start flossing their teeth, daily. According to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA), you’re missing one-third of the tooth’s surface if you don’t floss.
Between the ages of three and six, children develop their most important dental habits so establishing a healthy routine is very important. The first set of teeth begins to fall out and make room for adult teeth sometime between the ages of 5 and 8. They continue to lose baby teeth until the age of 12 or 13 when all of the permanent teeth finally come through, except for the third molars, or wisdom teeth. These molars begin to appear around the ages of 17-21.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends most children have a dental checkup at least every six months. Some children will need even more frequent visits. A pediatric dentist will clean your child’s teeth to remove any build-ups, including plaque and tartar; monitor your child’s tooth development and may suggest orthodontic treatment if teeth don’t emerge properly; suggest other treatment necessary for oral health such as fluoride treatments or sealants, and keep an eye out for conditions that can increase plaque, making teeth more vulnerable to decay and gums more vulnerable to gum disease.
The AAPD states further that if a baby tooth decays or is removed too early, the space necessary for the permanent tooth is lost, and can only be regained through orthodontic treatment. Infected baby teeth can cause the permanent teeth to develop improperly resulting in stains, pits, and weaker teeth. The AAPD recommends that parents and caregivers shop smart and buy few sugary or starchy snacks; buy "fun foods" just for special times; limit the number of snacks and make them nutritious; provide a balanced diet; and that children should not drink soda and if they chew gum, make it sugar free.
Applying resin bonding to the biting surfaces of the back teeth can help prevent cavities, but it tends to work better on adult teeth than on baby teeth, says Michael Casas, Director of Clinics in the Department of Dentistry at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
To end, Boston Children’s Hospital reported that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood – five times more common than asthma, and seven times more common than hay fever. 28 percent of preschoolers have cavities. 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness. So, as an oral health provider I encourage you to take care of your baby and young child’s teeth with good preventative care and maintenance, and they’ll thank you when they grow up and become adults.