You can your little ones on the path to good dental habits begins before they even have teeth. Why would you think about dental health before your baby has a single tooth? Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean their teeth aren’t there. Teeth begin to form in the second trimester of pregnancy, and by the time your baby is born, he or she will have 20 primary or “baby” teeth, and some of will already be fully developed in his jaw!
It Starts with the Gums
Even before your baby starts teething, get into the habit of running a clean, damp washcloth over her gums to clear away harmful bacteria.
Caring for Tiny Choppers
Once your baby’s teeth start coming in, brush them with an infant toothbrush. Use water and a tiny bit (about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste. (Use a brand that has the ADA seal of approval.) Using a tiny amount is best in case she swallows any saliva while you’re brushing. Brush gently on the inside and outside of each tooth.
As soon as your baby’s teeth touch, you can add flossing in between them to the routine.
Starting around age two, let them brush their teeth themselves, under your supervision. Remind them to spit frequently to avoid swallowing toothpaste. Once they reach age three, let them use a bit more toothpaste — a dab about the size of a pea. Keep supervising the brushing process until they’re around six years old. You want to make sure they have the coordination to do a good job brushing and that they don’t swallow any toothpaste.
Establish Good Feeding Habits
Even a baby can develop tooth decay if he or she goes to sleep with a bottle every night. Sugars from milk or juice that stay on baby’s teeth overnight can eat away at the enamel and cause a condition known as “bottle mouth”. Pitted or discolored front teeth are signs of the condition, and, if severe enough, it can cause cavities and make it necessary to have their front baby teeth pulled out. (Their permanent teeth will replace them eventually.)
Letting your baby or toddler suck on a bottle all day can also do damage, so try to establish regular eating and bottle times rather than letting them have their bottle whenever they want it. Try to switch them to a “sippy” cup by the time they’re six months of age, even if you have to hold it until they develop the motor skills to hold it themselves.
Their First Visit with the Dentist
The ADA recommends that children see a dentist by the time they reach their first birthday. The dentist will likely let you hold your baby on your lap while she does an exam, and will go over proper brushing and flossing techniques with you.
This first visit is important for a couple of reasons:
- It gets your child acquainted with going to the dentist so they’ll feel more comfortable during future visits.
- Potential problems can be spotted early and fluoride treatments can start even before your baby has all his or her primary teeth.
Limit sugary treats and juices, which can cause cavities. If you establish good habits early, your kids will have an easier time keeping them later on. Taking care of their teeth will become part of their daily routine, thanks to your early diligence!