There’s so much to consider when you are pregnant or have very young children. Doctor checkups, growth charts, and developmental milestones become a part of your daily life. One aspect of your baby’s health that can sometimes get overlooked is dental health. When should dental care for your child begin?
Dental Care Begins Before Your Baby is Born
Many parents believe that proper dental care doesn’t begin until the baby teeth begin to fall out and permanent teeth start to appear. But your baby’s teeth begin to form before birth, during your pregnancy.
During pregnancy, regular dental visits for the mother-to-be are equally important. Be sure to eat nutritious foods full of essential vitamins and minerals. Foods you eat can affect the health and wellness of your baby, and their teeth.
Baby Teeth and Permanent Teeth Development
Your baby’s first teeth will begin to work their way through the gums at any point between birth and 6 months of age, though it can vary greatly between children and families. Some babies are born with a few teeth, while others get their first ones closer to a year old.
There are 20 primary teeth that will come in between birth and 3 years of age. These teeth will subsequently fall out and be replaced by permanent teeth between the ages of 6 and 12. The last permanent teeth usually break through between the ages of 12 and 21.
Teething Care and Wellness
As the teeth move up through the gums, most babies will experience sore or tender gums, which can cause the baby to be irritable, fussy, lose their appetite, or drool more than normal.
Teething toys, moist washcloths, a clean finger, or a cool small spoon can provide some comfort for your baby during this time. If diarrhea, fever, or rashes appear, consult your doctor as they are not generally associated with teething.
Caring for Your Child’s Teeth
Dental care is important for your child’s health at every age. As soon as teeth appear, decay can occur. Here are some general guidelines on how to care for your child’s teeth at any age.
- Even at a few days old, you can begin to keep the gums of your child clean by wiping them with a clean moist washcloth.
- Once the first teeth appear around 6 months of age, keep them clean by gently cleaning them with a moist gauze pad or clean washcloth. Don’t neglect the gums or tongue. Wiping the tongue and gums along with the teeth can reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth and help remove plaque.
- Do not put your child or small child to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, juice, or other item that contains sugar. The sugar and acids in the drinks can stick to teeth and cause tooth decay. In extreme instances, this can result in “bottle mouth,” where the child’s front teeth suffer from decay and have to be removed.
- Remove the bottle from your child’s mouth as soon as they are finished, and avoid propping the bottle up in their mouth. Encourage your child to begin drinking from a cup at around 4 to 6 months of age.
- Toddlers love to chew on toothbrushes. Introducing them to a toothbrush early and allowing them to brush their own teeth can be empowering and satisfying for them. However, this should never replace a parent brushing a toddlers teeth. Parents should supervise their toddlers, and assist in the brushing twice a day with a small amount of toothpaste.
- Flossing should begin as soon as your child’s teeth begin to touch each other. Plaque can build up between teeth and cause decay. Plastic flossing tools can be helpful and fun for toddlers.
- Ensure your child eats nutritious, healthy foods full of vitamins and minerals. Avoid foods that are high in sugar and processed carbohydrates like white bread, pastries, and pasta.
- Children 3 – 6 years old should begin to use fluoride toothpaste, and learn to effectively brush their own teeth, and learn to spit out the toothpaste. Adult supervision and assistance is still required to ensure the teeth are properly cleaned and cared for.
- If your child sucks their thumb or fingers, try to help them stop. Try offering them another item that provides comfort, or consult with your dentist for advice on how to best break the habit.
- Your child should not use a mouth rinse that contains alcohol. This can cause drying of the mouth and bad breath, and there is also a risk of them swallowing it.
- Disclosing tablets can help your child see how well they are brushing their teeth. These tablets are chewed and stick to any remaining plaque, allowing you to see where they might be missing. They are available through your dentist or at many drug stores.
- Consult with your dentist for recommendations on the appropriate time to begin using fluoride toothpastes or supplements to ensure stronger, healthier teeth.
Your Child’s First Dental Visit
You should begin regular dental checkups for your child once their first tooth appears, but no later than their first birthday. A dentist will be able to assess the possibility of future dental problems as early as 6 months of age. Beginning a routine of dental checkups every 6 months can help ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth.
Your child’s health and well being is your number one concern. Taking appropriate actions to ensure a healthy, clean smile from the time they are infants will help ensure they remain strong and healthy as your child grows from a toddler, to a child, to a teenager.