Healthy teeth are important—even baby teeth, so a visit to a pediatric dentist is certainly in order once your children’s teeth begin to show. Children need healthy teeth to chew and to speak clearly. And baby teeth hold space for adult teeth. Here are five things you can do to keep your baby’s mouth healthy and give him or her a healthy start!
1. Find out if your tap water has fluoride in it
If your tap water does not have fluoride, your dentist or physician might suggest fluoride in other forms to keep your child’s teeth healthy.
If your tap water does have fluoride—and your baby drinks only formula that has to be mixed with water— you may want to use bottled water (without added fluoride) some of the time. Here’s why: Mixing powdered or liquid infant formula concentrate with fluoridated water on a regular basis may increase the chance of a child developing dental fluorosis on his or her permanent teeth.
Fluorosis appears as white lines or flecks on the teeth. It is usually mild; in many cases, only a dental professional would notice it. If children regularly consume higher-than-recommended amounts of fluoride during the teeth-forming years (age 8 and younger), their permanent teeth may develop dental fluorosis.
2. Check and clean your baby’s teeth.
Sometimes parents do not realize that a baby’s teeth are susceptible to decay as soon as they appear in the mouth. By the time decay is noticed, it may be too late to save the child’s teeth. You can prevent this from happening to your child’s teeth by learning how to protect them:
Clean the teeth as soon as they come in with water and a clean, soft cloth or a baby’s toothbrush. Healthy teeth should be all one color. If you see spots or stains on the teeth, take your baby to a dentist. At about age 2 (or sooner if a dentist or physician suggests it) you should start putting fluoride toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush. Use only a pea-sized drop of toothpaste.
After each feeding, wipe the child’s teeth and gums with a damp washcloth or gauze pad, to remove plaque. Begin brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts. Remember to continue cleaning and massaging the child’s gums in all other areas that remain toothless. Flossing should begin when all primary teeth have erupted, usually by age 2.
3. Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle.
Baby bottle tooth decay is a form of decay than can destroy the teeth of an infant or young child. The teeth most likely to be damaged are the upper front teeth. These teeth are critical to you child’s smile. Other teeth may also be affected by this condition.
Milk, formula, juice, and other drinks such as soda all have sugar in them. Bacteria in the mouth use sugar to make acid. Over time, this acid can make a cavity in the tooth. The longer sugar stays on your baby’s teeth, the more chances the bacteria have to make acid. And more acid means more decay.
Offering your child a bottle containing these liquids many times a day, as a pacifier, isn’t a good idea. Allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at night can cause serious harm and damage to your child’s teeth. During sleep, the flow of saliva decreases. This allows the liquids in the nursing bottle to pool around your child’s teeth for long periods of time.
So if you do put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill it only with water.
4. Feed your baby or toddler healthy foods.
- Choose foods without a lot of sugar in them.
- Give your child fruits and vegetables for snacks.
- Save cookies and other treats for special occasions.
5. Take your child to the dentist by age 1.
At this visit, the dentist will check your child’s teeth and show you the best way to clean them.
Preparing for the First Dental Visit
Take you child to see the dentist by his or her first birthday. Your child’s first visit to the dentist can be a pleasant adventure. Talk about the visit in a positive matter-of-fact way, as you would any important new experience. Explain that the dentist is a friendly doctor who will help the child stay healthy.
During the first visit, the child’s mouth will be examined for tooth decay and other problems. The teeth may be cleaned by the dentist or dental hygienist. The dentist will explain how the child’s teeth should be cleaned at home, how diet and eating habits affect dental health and methods to ensure that your child gets sufficient fluoride.
Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are three years old. Primary teeth are just as important as permanent teeth, for chewing, speaking, and appearance. In addition, the primary teeth hold the space in the jaws for the permanent teeth.
You should start brushing the child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts. Flossing should begin when all the primary teeth have erupted, usually by age 2 to 2 ½. By age 4 or 5, the child may be able to brush his or her own teeth under supervision.
The pre-school years are an important time to help your child establish good eating habits, since you can control your child’s diet successfully. At this age, many children need to eat snacks or “mini-meals”. They cannot always eat enough food at mealtimes to get all the nutrients and energy they need. Help your child choose sensible snacks – foods that don’t promote tooth decay.
*Information courtesy of the NIH.com.