It’s true that babies don’t develop teeth until the later half of their first year and the teeth that they do develop through their infant and toddler years will begin to fall out around age 6 or 7. However, that doesn’t mean that oral health care isn’t important during this time. In fact, oral health care for babies and toddlers is just as crucial as it is for children and teens. Baby teeth help your child learn to chew and speak properly, as well as help the face develop its proper shape. They also act as placeholders for permanent teeth, and baby tooth decay can spread down to the permanent teeth developing below. So, with these things in mind, here are some helpful tips how to care for your baby or toddler’s teeth.
Infant Dental Care Tips for Parents
Preventing Tooth Decay Before Teeth Appear
From day one, there is a lot you can do to support the development of healthy teeth for your baby. A baby’s teeth are already exposed to decay risk factors before they have even emerged and broken through the gums. After each feeding, you should take a soft baby washcloth or some gauze and wipe down your baby’s gums. This will help keep them clean and healthy. It is also vital to avoid letting your infant fall asleep with a bottle of juice or milk. Both juice and milk have sugars in them that can contribute to early tooth decay called “baby bottle decay.”
Making Sure Your Baby Gets the Right Amount of Fluoride
Once your baby begins weaning off of breast milk or formula, t is also important for parents to make sure babies are getting enough fluoride in their diet. Fluoride is a key nutrient that aids in the development of healthy teeth. Typically, city water supplies have the proper ratio of fluoride added to them; however, it’s a good idea to check with your local water supplier to see if this is the case. If you use bottled water for drinking and cooking, if you are on well water, or if your local water supply does not have enough or any fluoride in it, talk to your pediatrician. They may recommend fluoride supplements for your baby.
Caring for Your Baby’s Oral Health During Teething
Teething is a normal part of infant development, but it can be very uncomfortable for your baby. Irritability, excessive drooling, swollen gums, restlessness, and refusing bottles are common symptoms of teething. One way to help ease the discomfort of teething is to take a clean finger and gently rub your baby’s gum line. Another is to take teething rings and place them in the refrigerator, allowing them to chill before offering them to your child. The cold combined with the teething ring will help soothe and numb your infant’s irritated gums.
Your Baby’s First Dental Visit
The first dentist appointment is a vital step in your infant’s dental care. You should take your child to his or her first dentist visit once their first tooth emerges or at 12 months old, whichever comes first. This visit will allow your family or pediatric dentist to examine your baby’s teeth based on color and condition to ensure they are in good condition and developing properly. Taking your child to the dentist at this time and continuing to do so every six months as they grow will help ensure that proper dental health care starts early and they are used to dental visits, potentially reducing dental anxiety as they get older.
Toddler Dental Health Tips for Parents
Brushing Your Toddler’s Teeth
The moment your child’s first tooth comes in, you should begin brushing it with water and a baby toothbrush, while still cleaning the rest of the gums with gauze or a washcloth. As more teeth continue to come in, you should continue to do the same. You shouldn’t start using toothpaste until your child is about two years old. At this age, you can begin using a pea-sized amount of fluoride-free toothpaste to brush your child’s teeth. Don’t start using fluoride toothpaste until your child is capable of spitting it all out (most children around this age are more likely to swallow the toothpaste). In addition, you should continue helping your child brush his or her teeth until they are around six years old. Toddlers should have their teeth brushed once after breakfast and once after dinner (or as directed by a dentist or pediatrician) every day.
Flossing Your Toddler’s Teeth
Oral care for toddlers should absolutely include flossing. You should begin flossing your child’s teeth once two of their teeth are touching each other. Take about 18 inches (about 45cm) of floss and gently wrap one end around each index finger. Pull the floss taut and carefully insert the floss between your child’s teeth. Gently bring both ends of the floss in the same direction, creating a “V” or “C” shape, and bring the floss up and down the side of your child’s tooth, delicately scraping away any plaque that may be hiding there. Do the same thing in the other direction, getting the side of the adjacent tooth, before removing the floss.
Concerned about Thumb Sucking, Finger Sucking, or Persistent Pacifier Use?
In babies and young toddlers, the sucking reflex is both normal and healthy, but it can cause problems once their permanent teeth start coming in. Finger sucking and pacifier use should cease by about the age of four, as it can cause misalignments in the development of permanent teeth, such as “buck teeth” or an open bite. Thumb, finger, or pacifier sucking could also increase your child’s risk for tooth decay as they get older. It is important to take steps to discourage these types of behaviors as your child leaves their toddler years and get closer to having permanent teeth.
Ask for Your Dentist’s Help in Taking Care of Your Infant or Toddler’s Teeth
These tips are all just general guidelines, but a dentist can help determine a more personalized dental care plan for your infant or toddler’s unique needs. That is why it is so important for you to take your child to the dentist every six months, starting with the appearance of their first tooth. Your child’s dentist can monitor the development of your child’s teeth from the beginning and can give you oral health tips for your baby’s teeth as they grow.
The pediatric dental care professionals at the Acworth Center for Family Dentistry are experienced and knowledgeable about dental care for children of all ages. We can help you teach your child from the beginning that going to the dentist is a warm, pleasant experience and that proper dental care is important. Give us a call at (770) 203-1711 or contact us online to find out more or to schedule an appointment.