Start hygiene habits early!
There is a lot of information out there about oral health in babies and toddlers but what’s true and what isn’t? We’re getting down to the details here:
My baby doesn’t have teeth, so why do I need to ‘brush’ their gums?
Bacteria from food accumulate, creating plaque build up, even on the gums and below the gum line, which can affect teeth that the baby hasn’t developed yet!
Both formula and breast milk contain some sugar and needs to be cleaned off every day. You don’t need to use a toothbrush. Just a moist cloth or some gauze will do the trick but skip the toothpaste until they’re older.
Baby teeth are going to fall out anyway so who cares about brushing them?
Cavities need to be dealt with, even with baby teeth. The effects of tooth decay go beyond the tooth with the cavity. Tooth decay can lead to pain, infection, chewing problems and, if left untreated, can impact the permanent tooth that is developing underneath. If those aren’t good enough reasons to get brushing, I don’t know what are!
Once your baby has teeth, you can start using a very soft brush and water, making sure to massage the gums as well as the new teeth. At age 2, you can add a rice sized amount of fluoride toothpaste, growing that to a pea sized amount by age 3. It’s important to teach them to spit as much out as possible.
And as for flossing? That becomes more important when there are two teeth close together, somewhere between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. Until then, it isn’t really necessary.
Another important issue is baby bottle tooth decay. Do you put your baby down in the crib at night with a bottle? Sure, it’s convenient for you and many kids find it soothing but it contributes to much higher rates of tooth decay because of the almost constant contact with the milk or juice / water that the bottle contains. The sugars from these liquids remain on the teeth for hours, damaging the enamel and increasing the possibility of tooth decay.
What is ‘teething’?
Basically, teething is when babies’ teeth are coming up through the gums. Babies usually begin teething between 3 – 9 months of age. As each tooth erupts, there can be some mild discomfort that causes fussiness or an unwillingness to eat as much, as well as drooling.
As the teeth come in, you should be keeping an eye on things to make sure that there are no damaged or broken teeth. It could happen in a fall and you might not notice it right away but as baby teeth are essentially reserving a spot in your child’s mouth for the eventual adult tooth, any premature tooth loss needs to be looked at by a dentist, to avoid crowding or other issues.
When should my baby first visit the dentist?
Most dentists recommend a first visit around the age one. Not for any real dental work but to let kids see that it’s not scary and they can actually have fun sitting in the dentist’s chair! It’s an introductory appointment, more than anything else.
Unless there are oral issues that need to be dealt with (like a broken tooth, for example), most kids can sit through an examination around age three, with regular semi-annual cleanings and examinations beginning at age four.
If you have any concerns about your kid’s oral health, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your dentist. They’ll be able to tell you what’s normal and what will need to be watched.
When can my child brush their own teeth?
Realistically, this isn’t going to happen before age seven, so you had best settle into the routine of morning and evening brushing, and eventually flossing once a day too! There are ways to make it more fun and set your child on the path to good habits:
1. Let them pick out their toothbrush from a limited amount that you have pre-selected, at the store. They’ll be more invested if they have a say in the tools being used!
2. Opt for flavor free flossing sticks as mint doesn’t go over well with a lot of children.
3. Pick fluoride toothpaste based on quality, not the cartoon characters on the tube, but again, let them participate if you can.
4. Since brushing should be happening for a solid two minutes, there are apps to make sure that the full two minutes is happening AND that offer sticker rewards or other incentives to do a good job! Some play music, some have games… all to keep everyone focused and motivated to the task at hand!
A word about pacifiers…
While pacifiers are great ways to soothe babies who are very active with their rooting reflex, allowing them to use the comfort tool for too long can have some negative effects on the development of their teeth.
Babies and small children should see no negative effects from using a soother but if your child is still using a pacifier after they start losing their baby teeth (age 6ish), you could encounter some real issues such as:
1. The top front teeth could slant outwards
2. The bottom front teeth could tilt inwards
3. The upper and lower jaws could be misaligned
4. The roof of the mouth could be narrower
Keeping on top of your child’s oral hygiene from the beginning will make it an easy habit to continue as they get older.