When you look into the faces of these sweet children, you can’t help but want to do everything you can to keep them healthy and protected. Good oral health is just one part of general health, but it is important and can have an impact on their whole lives. For some, it is not a lack of desire to keep baby healthy but a lack of knowledge of how to do it. Probably the question I get asked the most is, “When do I begin to take care of my baby’s teeth?” The answer is sooner than you probably think.
The reality is that it is never too early to start maintaining your baby’s oral health. This includes diet, oral hygiene, and the introduction of fluoride. You want your baby to have a lifetime of healthy smiles and good oral hygiene habits are easy to implement.
How about bottles in bed?
Putting a baby to bed with a bottle, in general, is not recommended. It is strongly NOT recommended to put a baby to bed with a bottle containing fruit juice, milk, formula, or any other sweet liquid. The sugar in these beverages causes cavities and leads to a condition called “baby bottle tooth decay.” Fruit juice is considered by some to be a healthy alternative to soda, but it also contains large amounts of sugar. For more information on how sugar causes cavities, please click here. For best oral health practices, make sure that your baby has finished his or her bottle prior to going to sleep. If you feel that you must put the baby down with a bottle, use water instead.
By the time your child is six months old, calcium starts to infiltrate the forming permanent tooth that will not erupt until around six years old. Ingesting fluoride through treated water or other means (as opposed to applying it to the teeth directly) is important during this period to allow the teeth to have built-in cavity protection. For those who have fluoride in the municipal water supply, no supplementary fluoride is necessary. Remember, bottled water usually does not contain fluoride. Babies who are breast fed do not need to be supplemented by the water supply. There is a lot of information and misinformation that can be found online about fluoride and its risks and benefits. Open a dialogue with your dentist or hygienist if you have any questions.
When do I start brushing my baby’s teeth?
For optimal oral health, begin wiping your baby’s gums with a clean, soft wet cloth twice daily before the teeth even “come in” or erupt. The time frame for tooth eruption is different for everyone. Some babies are born with teeth and other kids will not see their first tooth until 14-15 months. Late eruption of teeth is pretty common, so don’t feel pressured to get a set of baby dentures for those 1 year old glamour shots. (Of course there are no baby dentures, but if there were, we would strongly discourage them….even for a really good joke.)
Once your baby’s teeth begin erupting, the teeth and mouth should be brushed with a soft bristled tooth brush and water. As noted in an earlier blog post, fluoride toothpaste recommendations have been updated and a very small (grain of rice sized) amount of fluoride toothpaste can used. Due to the lack of sugar in my children’s diet, I personally do not use a fluoride toothpaste with my infants. However, take time to have a discussion with your dentist to come up with a plan that works best for your family.
When should my baby see a dentist?
The generally accepted time frame for the first dental visit should coincide with either the first tooth or the first birthday, whichever comes first. I know that is a lot of “firsts,” but that makes it easy to remember. At our office, we do not charge for exams for kids under three. We know that parents have a lot of questions, and we want it to be a stress-free experience. Your baby may or may not let me take a look at that first visit and that’s okay. Don’t let anxiety about a child’s behavior keep you from coming in. My own kids don’t even take it easy on me, so we have no expectation that your kids will either. The important thing is establishing baselines and routines that lead to a lifetime of healthy smiles!!